Chauncey DeVega

Shameless self-promotion: Media rush to rehabilitate Trump regime as fascists expertly exploit the free press

There is no such thing as "the liberal media."

That is language concocted by the Republican Party and right-wing consultants with the goal of bullying the American news media into being compliant and subservient to the "conservative" agenda.

And they were remarkably successful in achieving that goal.

Decades later it is now an accepted "fact" among America's political class, the general public, and the mainstream news media itself that there is such a thing as "liberal bias" in the news industry. The enduring myth of the "liberal media" is one of many examples of how the American right has successfully weaponized language with a propaganda campaign to shape the country's political terrain in their interests.

Republicans have marketed themselves as defenders of "freedom." In reality, they are authoritarians who support a range of policies that limit human and civil rights.

The Republican Party has created a brand that is based upon "family values." This is fiction. The policies and ideology of the modern GOP are centered upon gutting the social safety net and ending the county's already very weak and still developing social democracy. If they are successful in that agenda, the overall well-being of American families will be greatly diminished.

The "conservative" movement staunchly claims to be "pro-life." This is not true. Their policies and ideology have actually shortened the lives of the American people as seen with health care, gun violence, the global climate crisis and environment, the COVID pandemic, and social inequality more generally.

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich is one of the main architects of the strategy that allowed the Republican Party to win the language wars and the central role of the myth of "the liberal media" in that outcome. In 1995, the media watchdog group FAIR explained how:

Since winning control of Congress, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) has constantly complained about "destructive" and "negative" coverage from the "liberal elite media."… In fact, the new speaker of the House—who once described his goal as "reshaping the entire nation through the news media" (New York Times, 12/14/94)—has given a great deal of thought to the media and how to manipulate them. One Newtonian axiom is "fights make news" (Boston Globe, 11/20/94). Another skill he has taught to Republican candidates through his political organization, GOPAC, is how to create a "shield issue" to deflect criticism…

But the clearest expression of Gingrich's philosophy of media came in a GOPAC memo entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Distributed to GOP candidates across the country, the memo's list of words for Democrats and words for Republicans was endorsed by Gingrich in a cover letter: "The words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language." Next time you hear Gingrich complain about media focusing on the negative, refer back to these lists.

In a widely cited 2003 essay at The Nation, media critic and author Eric Alterman said the following about the myth of "the liberal media":

Move over to the mainstream publications and broadcasts often labeled "liberal," and you see how ridiculous the notion of liberal dominance becomes. ….

I could go on, but the point is clear: Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match–either in size, ferocity or commitment–for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.

In a careful 1999 study published in the academic journal Communications Research, four scholars examined the use of the "liberal media" argument and discovered a fourfold increase in the number of Americans telling pollsters that they discerned a liberal bias in their news. But a review of the media's actual ideological content, collected and coded over a twelve-year period, offered no corroboration whatever for this view. The obvious conclusion: News consumers were responding to "increasing news coverage of liberal bias media claims, which have been increasingly emanating from Republican Party candidates and officials."

The right is working the refs. And it's working. Much of the public believes a useful but unsupportable myth about the so-called liberal media, and the media themselves have been cowed by conservatives into repeating their nonsensical nostrums virtually nonstop. As the economist/pundit Paul Krugman observes of Republican efforts to bully the media into accepting the party's Orwellian arguments about Social Security privatization: "The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media–fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance'–won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."

In the real world of the right-wing media, the pundits are the conservatives' shock troops. Even the ones who constantly complain about alleged liberal control of the media cannot ignore the vast advantage their side enjoys when it comes to airing their views on television, in the opinion pages, on the radio and the Internet.

In total, the mainstream news media is inherently "small c" conservative. As a social institution it prioritizes making money and is averse to change. As such, the American mainstream news media also serves an agenda-setting and boundary-enforcing function that sets limits on the "approved public discourse." In that role, liberal and progressives are routinely silenced out of deference to "conservative" and right-wing voices – however extreme the latter may be.

Because the mainstream news media are aligned with the powerful as a class, they prioritize having access to them in what is a parasitic and symbiotic relationship. In practice, this meant that access to the powerful — especially for DC beltway journalists — is more important than bold truth-telling and consistently speaking truth to power. The conservative nature of the American news media and its institutional bias towards "normalcy" helps to explain why it has been so unable to properly pivot and adapt to the realities of the Age of Trump, rising neofascism, and the country's ongoing democracy crisis. Thus, the continued habit of using obsolete norms such as "bothsideism," an overempahsis on "horserace coverage," an obsession with political personalities instead of systems and power, and an amplification of the controversy of the day instead of on fundamental issues.

One of the most dangerous examples of how the media has been conditioned by the right through the myth of "liberal bias" is how it is now helping to launder the reputations of several Trump regime members and other Republican fascists. In a very high-profile example of reputation laundering, The New York Times — which is routinely attacked by right-wing media for committing the "crime" of "liberal bias" (a baseless and absurd claim) — recently featured a guest opinion essay by former Trump regime advisor and propagandist Kellyanne Conway. Her Times op-ed contained Trump political pornography such as this:

Donald J. Trump shocked the world in 2016 by winning the White House and becoming the first president in U.S. history with no prior military or government experience. He upended the fiction of electability pushed by pundits, the news media and many political consultants, which arrogantly projects who will or will not win long before votes are cast. He focused instead on capturing a majority in the Electoral College, which is how a candidate does or does not win. Not unlike Barack Obama eight years earlier, Mr. Trump exposed the limits of Hillary Clinton's political inevitability and personal likability, connected directly with people, ran an outsider's campaign taking on the establishment, and tapped into the frustrations and aspirations of millions of Americans.

Some people have never gotten over it. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. There is no vaccine and no booster for it. Cosseted in their social media bubbles and comforted within self-selected communities suffering from sameness, the afflicted disguise their hatred for Mr. Trump as a righteous call for justice or a solemn love of democracy and country. So desperate is the incessant cry to "get Trump!" that millions of otherwise pleasant and productive citizens have become naggingly less so. They ignore the shortcomings, failings and unpopularity of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and abide the casual misstatements of an administration that says the "border is secure," inflation is "transitory," "sanctions are intended to deter" Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and they will "shut down the virus." They've also done precious little to learn and understand what drives the 74 million fellow Americans who were Trump-Pence voters in 2020 and not in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In her New York Times audition for a job on Trump's 2024 presidential campaign, Conway also wrote:

A popular sentiment these days is, "I want the Trump policies without the Trump personality." It is true that limiting the name-calling frees up time and space for persuasion and solutions. Still, it may not be possible to have one without the other. Mr. Trump would remind people that it was a combination of his personality and policies that forced Mexico to help secure our border; structured new trade agreements and renewed manufacturing, mining and energy economies; pushed to get Covid vaccines at warp speed; engaged Kim Jong-un; played hardball with China; routed ISIS and removed Qassim Suleimani, Iran's most powerful military commander; forced NATO countries to increase their defense spending and stared down Mr. Putin before he felt free to invade Ukraine.

When it comes to Donald J. Trump, people see what they wish to see. Much like with the audio debate a few years ago "Do you hear 'Laurel' or 'Yanny'?," what some perceive as an abrasive, scornful man bent on despotism, others see as a candid, resolute leader unflinchingly committed to America's interests.

There were thousands of comments on the New York Times website in response to Conway's column and the publication's decision to allow her such a privileged platform. Based on a cursory review, a good many, if not most of these comments were negative. The Times even featured one such complaint in a letter to the editor:

A diversity of opinions and perspectives is a fantastic goal, and one reason I've been a longtime subscriber. Generally speaking, your opinion guest essays are well written and thoughtful and provide a point of view that makes one examine a topic with fresh eyes.

The opinion from Ms. Conway is not that.

Time and again she employs sloganeering to sling arrows at Democrats and non-Trumpists in an attempt to burnish the reputation of her former boss.

She continues to attempt to turn neighbor against neighbor by perpetuating the othering of Trump detractors and the denial of Mr. Trump's and her attacks on voting, democracy and simple decency.

Hers is not another "opinion"; it is carefully crafted and intentional spin to appeal to people's sense of grievance and to reaffirm the lies and misinformation they are so ready to believe.

Her inclusion in your paper diminishes the quality of debate, and galvanizes a person America would be better off forgetting.

Conway is representative of a larger pattern where such leading news media outlets as the New York Times, CNN, CBS, NBC and others are deciding to amplify and provide a platform for Trumpists, Republican-fascists, and other right-wing anti-democracy voices. They are doing this behind the cover of "fairness" and "balancing" when in reality such a decision is based on fear, profit-maximizing, and strategically positioning themselves to be in good favor with the Republican Party, "conservatives" and other anti-democratic forces as a type of insurance policy and security blanket for what promises to be a very perilous and unsettled future.

In an essay at Medium, journalist and author Wajahat Ali warns that "Even in the face of increased threats and a failed coup, too many journalists in mainstream media outlets will continue to pave the road toward fascism with their 'both sides' coverage." He continues, "Access journalism is a parasitic relationship. Some of these journalists are like small remoras, or shark suckers, who attach to sharks to get to their destination. If they were riding the shark in JAWS, they'd write an article blaming the townspeople for forcing the shark to eat them":

There's a class of journalists belonging to legacy outlets and corporate media who are incapable of shedding their antiquated, toxic skin and adapting to the changing political and cultural landscape where disinformation, white supremacist conspiracy theories, and right-wing stochastic terrorism is the norm. Instead, they chase the North Star, which isn't the truth, but rather access to power, ratings, and a path toward personal success….

Instead of bending the knee to right-wing intimidation, platforming their lies, mainstreaming their hate, and engaging in "both sides" nonsense to create the fiction of symmetry in an utterly asymmetrical reality, these political journalists need to be biased in favor of the truth and democracy.

Ultimately, the American mainstream news media needs to engage in a type of personal inventory and critical self-reflection about its role in democracy and failings (and successes) in the Age of Trump and beyond.In short, it must do better as it strives to live up to the ideals of the Fourth Estate in a democracy. A big step in that direction would be refusing to participate in the reputation laundering and rehabilitation of Trump's regime members and other neo-fascists and enemies of democracy in today's Republican Party and larger right-wing and "conservative" movement.

If the American mainstream news media does not do this necessary and hard work it is just contributing to its own legitimacy crisis and lack of trust among the American people, which in turn means aiding the Republican fascists and other enemies of a free press and democracy.

New research shows that Donald Trump’s fascist attacks on democracy may have backfired

The internet and social media are a type of experience machine.

At their worst, the internet and social media function as a self-reinforcing echo chamber and closed episteme in which many people confuse huge amounts of free and otherwise readily available "information" and "content" with true knowledge and hard-earned expertise.

The Algorithm is designed to keep "users" "engaged" by amplifying negative emotions and feelings of conflict where individuals who are experiencing emotional and spiritual emptiness, loneliness and other unmet human needs are stimulated into an endless if not compulsive cycle of clicks, scrolling, posts, comments, "likes", "shares" and other reactions. To that point, people who engage in "compulsive" internet use are more likely to exhibit the "Dark Triad" traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

In many ways, rage, anger and other negative emotions and behavior are the currency (and business model) of social media and the internet.

A 2021 Pew Research survey showed that 31 percent of American adults report being "constantly" online.

In a new essay at TomDispatch (republished at Salon) investigative journalist Andy Kroll reflects on what he learned researching conspiracy theories online and the toxic seductive power and allure of such spaces:

A confession: on a few of those late nights spent in the online ruins, I caught myself starting to nod along with some of the wild-eyed nonsense I was reading. Maybe I found a particular Reddit thread surprisingly convincing. Maybe the post in question had sprinkled a few verifiable facts amid the nonsense to make me think, Huh? Maybe my sixth cup of coffee and lack of sleep had so weakened my mental safeguards that madness itself began to seem at least faintly reasonable. When I felt such heretical thoughts seep into my stream of consciousness, I took it as a sure sign that I should log off and go to bed.

Thinking back on those moments, I admit that the first feeling I have is pure and utter embarrassment. I'm an investigative reporter. I make a living dealing in facts, data and vetted information. Heck, my first job in journalism was as a full-time, trained fact-checker. I should be impervious to the demented siren song of conspiracy theories, right?

The correct answer is indeed: Right. And yet……

That frictionless glide from one post to the next, video after video, tweet upon tweet, plays tricks on the mind. Spend enough time in that realm and even the most absurd theories and narratives start to acquire the patina of logic, the ring of reason. How else to explain the sheer number of QAnon adherents — one in five Americans, according to an analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute — who believe that a secret cabal of pedophile elites, including Tom Hanks and Oprah, run the world, or that the Earth is indeed flat, or that the moon landing more than half a century ago was faked, no matter what news broadcaster Walter Cronkite might have said at the time?

Kroll continues:

Put simply, we don't stand a chance against the social media companies. Fueled by highly sophisticated algorithms that maximize "engagement" at all costs by feeding users ever more inflammatory content, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest of them don't simply entertain, inform, or "connect" us. As New York Times reporter Max Fisher writes in his book "The Chaos Machine," "This technology exerts such a powerful pull on our psychology and our identity, and is so pervasive in our lives, that it changes how we think, behave, and relate to one another. The effect, multiplied across billions of users, has been to change society itself."

Spending so much time burrowing into such websites, I came away with a deep sense of just how addictive they are. More than that, they rewire your mind in real-time. I felt it myself. I fear that there's no path out of our strange, increasingly conspiratorial moment, filled with viral lies and rampant disinformation, without rewriting the algorithms that increasingly govern our lives.

As seen on Jan. 6 and throughout the Age of Trump and the global democracy crisis, the internet and social media are a playground and a type of force multiplier for right-wing extremists including fascists, conspiracists, terrorists, religious fundamentalists, white supremacists and other malign actors to organize and plan, as well as to radicalize and recruit new members.

Donald Trump embodies the worst of human behavior. As the leader of a political cult movement, he has given his followers permission to be their true horrible selves. Fascism and other types of illiberal politics are those antisocial and antihuman emotions and impulses harnessed in the form of a reactionary revolutionary destructive political project.

To that end, Trump, the Republican fascists, and the larger white right were able to use the internet and social media to grow their base of support into a movement comprised of many tens of millions of (white) Americans. As many democracy experts and other observers have concluded, Trump's rise to power was empowered by the internet, social media, and how the American right wing has spent several decades creating a parallel media machine and other institutions that together function as a type of alternate universe for its followers.

Democrats, liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy Americans have no such equivalent countervailing force.

Writing at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, journalist Alan Miller offers this context:

The 2016 presidential election was a watershed in the evolution of misinformation and disinformation. It was also a breakthrough in public awareness of the scope and impact of harmful misinformation online and of the kaleidoscope of bad actors who produce it.

The public learned how much the companies running the platforms knew (especially Facebook), and how little they had been willing to do to curb it. The public also found out about the Russians' aggressive disinformation campaign to influence the election's outcome, pit Americans against each other, and undermine faith in democracy.

All these forces were at play before Donald Trump became president, but he relentlessly exploited and exacerbated them with constant prevarications and attacks on the news media. When journalists sought to hold him accountable, he dismissed their reporting as "fake news." He systematically eroded political norms and the rule of law. He spread harmful falsehoods about COVID-19 that cost an untold number of lives. And he undermined his supporters' faith in the election process.

Having gone from "alternative facts" (a phrase that entered the lexicon just two days after Trump's inauguration) to alternative realities upon his contentious departure from office, Americans now not only cannot agree on what the facts are; they cannot even agree on what a fact is.

This poses one of the great challenges of our time, because facts are the central nervous system of public life. They are the basis for what is taught in schools. For scientific inquiry and findings. For the legal system and jurisprudence. For societal debates and decisions about what constitutes effective public policy.
And facts most certainly are not partisan. If they are in trouble, we are on the path not only to an information dystopia, but very possibly to autocracy.

Trump, the Republican fascists and their allies were able to use the internet and social media to take control of the White House and other governing institutions as part of a much larger and ongoing assault on American democracy and freedom.

During the midterms, enough Americans voted to slow down the Republican fascists' assault on democracy and freedom. The Democrats would maintain control of the Senate. Instead of a clear majority in the House, the much-discussed "red tide" largely dissipated, leaving the Republican Party with a tenuous majority.

Recent research by Shaun Bowler, Miguel Carreras and Jennifer L. Merolla, which is featured in the journal Political Research Quarterly, suggests that the results of the midterm elections are a sign that Trump's power to use social media and the internet as part of his war on American democracy has been diminishing over time. Moreover, Trump's attempts to mobilize Republican voters and his cultists online may have actually helped the Democrats in the midterms.

Writing at PsyPost, Eric Dolan summarizes these findings:

Carreras and his colleagues found limited evidence that exposure to some of Trump's rhetoric moved people in a more anti-democratic direction. Independent participants who read Trump's attack on Congress tended to be more supportive of the idea of the president disregarding Congress and the courts. Trump's attack the media also lead to a greater endorsement of the president disregarding Congress among Republicans. These effects were mostly reversed among Democrats.

But the researchers found no evidence that exposure to Trump's tweets attacking the media, Congress, or the courts influenced attitudes regarding support for democracy. Those exposed to the control tweet were just as likely as those exposed to Trump's attacks to agree with the statement "Democracy may have problems, but it is better than any other form of government."

Trump's tweets attacking the media, Congress, or the courts also appeared to have no impact on support for strong leaders among Republican participants but decreased support for strong leaders among Democratic participants. In addition, those exposed to Trump's attack on the media were more likely to disagree with the statement "When the press publishes inaccurate information about the government, the president should be able to remove their license," an effect that was largely driven by Democrats.

"The key finding is that Trump's undemocratic messages in 2019 (a series of Tweets attacking other liberal institutions) did not lead to an erosion of democratic attitudes. On the contrary, the results suggest there is significant pushback against anti-democratic messages, especially among Democrats," Carreras told PsyPost.

Carreras concludes: "Our results add an important caveat to the literature on polarization and democratic erosion in the United States. Previous studies have emphasized the risk posed by partisan polarization for citizens' attachment to democratic norms. One possible silver lining of partisan polarization is that it can lead supporters of a pro-democracy outparty (i.e., the Democratic party during the Trump administration) to coalesce around democratic norms to fight against authoritarian excesses by the incumbent party."

This research complements the findings by Jon Green, William Hobbs, Stefan McCabe, and David Lazer as recently published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that right-wing conspiracy theories about the Big Lie and "stolen elections" are correlated with lowerturnout for Republican candidates in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff election and increased voting for Democratic candidates.

The abstract of "Online engagement with 2020 election misinformation and turnout in the 2021 Georgia runoff election" summarizes these findings as: "Liking or sharing messages opposed to conspiracy theories was associated with higher turnout than expected in the runoff election, and those who liked or shared tweets promoting fraud-related conspiracy theories were slightly less likely to vote."

At their best, the internet, social media and other digital technologies can be used to improve the human condition by providing information and facilitating communication and coordination in ways, that until very recently, were viewed as almost impossible. Unfortunately, those same traits have empowered malign actors and other anti-social and anti-human forces to attack and subvert democracy and the good society.

As many democracy experts and other watchdogs have repeatedly warned, the ability of the internet and social media and other technologies to exercise an outsized and often profoundly negative impact on society – and to do so under the near exclusive and accountability-free control of corporations and other private actors – highlights the need for more transparency, public accountability and regulation of such technology.

The future of global democracy (and society) may literally depend on how we collectively decide how much and in what ways the internet and social media, and these new technologies more broadly, should influence our lives, futures, and relationships to one another -- and the powerful.

Vladimir Putin's blunders and what it means to be Ukrainian: An interview with Lawrence Freedman

Since the Russian invasion last February, the Ukrainian military has spent months trading space for time. That has proven a successful strategy: U.S. and NATO military assistance, excellent civilian and military leadership, a determined and well-trained military and a population committed to total resistance has evidently turned the tide against the Russian forces.

The Ukrainian military first pushed the Russians back from the attempted siege of Kyiv. In late August and September, the Ukrainians launched a series of bold offenses in the northeast and southeast, liberating a considerable amount of Russian-occupied territory, including the strategically important city of Kherson. But these battles have been costly for both sides. The Ukrainians have lost many thousands of soldiers and expended a large amount of their artillery supplies, particularly the precision-guided, long-range U.S.-made munitions that have been integral to interdicting Russian supplies, targeting command and control, and generally creating chaos behind the front line areas.

The Russians have suffered far worse losses: Western intelligence agencies estimate that the Russian military may havesuffered more than 100,000 casualties, and has seen its most modern and elite units decimated. Russia has also lost an unexpectedly high number of its best attack helicopters and fighter aircraft, making it even more difficult to turn back the Ukrainian offensive.

With winter arriving, it would be normal for the two armies to rest, consolidate their gains and prepare to fight again in the spring, especially in terrain where snow and mud will make maneuvering difficult for several months. So far, the Ukrainian military is defying those precedents, as it continues to attack Russian forces and reclaim lost territory. In response, the Russians are launching local counterattacks, digging in and bringing forward new conscripts to replenish their demoralized frontline forces. The Russians are also using drones and missiles to attack Ukraine's infrastructure and major cities in an attempt to break the Ukrainian people's will to resist by denying them heat, clean water and electricity.

The war in Ukraine is far from over and it would be foolish to make firm predictions about its outcome. But one thing is assured: This war will be studied for a long time as a type of lethal classroom where decades-old or centuries-old principles of strategy and tactics are being tested by the realities of the 21st-century battlefield.

Lawrence Freedman is one of the world's leading experts on foreign policy, war, strategy and international relations. He is emeritus professor of war studies at King's College London and the author of many books, including "Strategy: A History," "The Future of War" and "The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy." His new book is "Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine." Freedman's essays and other writing have been featured in such publications as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Statesman and the Times (U.K.).

In this conversation, he explains how the Russian military disregarded the fundamental basics of military strategy in its war against Ukraine, which is why Russia faces defeat on the battlefield. Freedman also contends that, contrary to Vladimir Putin's assumptions, in attacking Ukraine he strengthened that nation's resolve, sense of national unity and will to resist. This is especially true of the terror bombing campaign against Ukraine, which Freedman argues will do little or nothing to advance Russia's strategic goals or win the war.

Freedman also ponders counterfactual scenarios about the Ukraine war. How would a general from another time period adapt to modern warfare as seen in Ukraine? What would they do differently, or do the same? Freedman also takes on a question that has been much discussed online and in other forums: What would happen if the Russian military directly engaged in battle against U.S. or NATO forces?

Toward the end of this conversation, Freedman explains that Vladimir Putin's failures in Ukraine are an example of a larger dynamic: Authoritarian and autocratic leaders consistently make poor decisions because they are insulated from reality and accurate information.

I have very mixed emotions about the war. First, I always feel a bit guilty because my life gets more interesting and enthralling, in a way, whenever something awful is going on. Wars make me busy. It would be nice if peace made me quite as busy. I have Ukrainian friends, and what they are going through is awful. But on the other hand, they've shown enormous resilience and have made remarkable progress in fighting the war. In the end, I hesitate to say that I am optimistic because it is dangerous to predict the future. Yes, the Ukrainians have the initiative in the war. But even then, more people are going to die, be made into refugees, and generally life is going to be hard for the Ukrainians for the foreseeable future.

What does it mean to be Ukrainian right now?

I have spoken to a number of Ukrainians about this question. My feeling is that they are experiencing a much stronger sense of national identity than before the war. The idea that the Ukrainians were distinct from Russia is not that new. But I think what's striking about their sentiments now, and we see it in all the polling, is that there is a much clearer sense of solidarity with each other and a belief in the state and in Ukraine's leaders.

How do you balance your intellectual interests and curiosity about war and armed conflict with seeing the human cost and reality of it?

I have followed a number of wars pretty closely throughout my long career. I try not to look at wars as some type of spectator sport: War is about violence. The war in Ukraine is different in several ways. First, the Russian tactics are clearly very brutal, as they were in Syria. The amount of information about what is happening day to day in Ukraine is much more, as compared to previous wars. What we can see about war is just much more immediate and intimate.

I started paying close attention to wars with the Falklands in 1982. The amount of information that was coming back at any time was very small. There was radio commentary and very little television coverage of the Falklands — and even that was out of date. With social media today and the internet I can see tanks being blown up and actually watch the soldiers scurrying away, trying not to die. This is unprecedented in many ways. It is all so much closer than before.

A person can literally watch the war in Ukraine in real time. It is dystopian, it feels like a science fiction movie. To me, it's very unsettling. Our culture is already violent enough without that level of desensitization.

Vietnam was described as the first television war. I remember the Tet Offensive in 1968, for example. There was an immediacy in the coverage of the war as long as the TV crews were there to transmit images in near-real time, which meant, as in Tet, that fighting was taking place in cities. For a lot of the time this was about counterinsurgency, as also in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is unusual about the war in Ukraine is that this is a conventional war, and one fought at high intensity This isn't a walkover. This is a very serious fight for both sides. Yes, there was all the media coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, but no one really thought the United States was going to lose.

But we should still be careful in how we understand all this footage coming back from the war in Ukraine because we are not seeing everything, and the coverage is inevitably selective by nature.

When you look at the war in Ukraine, what is the simple story, and what is the more complicated one?

The simple story is quite straightforward: Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine on the basis of a total misapprehension of the country he was taking on. It was that error — presuming the country to be an ineffectual non-state ruled by an illegitimate government — which was used to justify the invasion in the first place. The reason the initial assaults by Russia failed was because of arrogance and an underestimation of the Ukrainians. The first moves by Russia failed, and they never really recovered from that. The Russians could not take Kyiv, and then we had the stage where they moved to the Donbas region. Western support started to come in and that moved us to the next stage of the war, from late July and August to the present, where the Ukrainians are taking the initiative because they have better equipment and supplies from America and NATO.

What is happening now in the war is very much the consequence of the Russians suffering shortages in manpower because they expended them — quite carelessly, in my opinion — early on. The Russians are pretty thinly defended now and are trying to bolster their ranks through mobilizing reserves and a de facto draft. The Russians have gradually become a 20th-century army, while the Ukrainians are gradually becoming a 21st-century one.

On another level, we are seeing a coercive Russian strategy against Ukrainian society. This involves a wide range of war crimes. Russia is also trying to turn off the power and electricity in Ukraine. The Ukrainians cannot do the same against the Russians in terms of targeting infrastructure. The Ukrainians are winning on the battlefield, but they cannot hit back against the Russians on that strategic level.

The Russian military has been exposed as a hollow force. Before the war in Ukraine, it had a fearsome reputation. Now the Russian military looks like it may collapse in Ukraine. Are there other historical examples of such a thing?

It does happen that armies, when they are properly tested, just collapse. It's not wholly unusual. That can happen because of a lack of supplies or from poor leadership. The Iraqi army in Desert Storm is an example of this. Before Desert Storm, the Iraqi army was talked about as the fourth-largest in the world, battle-hardened from their war against the Iranians. The Iraqis believed their own reputation. But in the end the Iraqi military could not oppose the combat power of the United States.

As for Russia, they did quite poorly in the first Chechen war. They went in arrogantly and got hammered by the Chechens. But that was explained as being caused by the end of the Cold War and a lack of funding for the Russian military, which was demoralized. Russia had time to rebuild its military afterwards, and it was assumed they had used the money from oil to modernize their forces.

I believe that Putin was misled by the fact that their recent military operations were successful, such as the second Chechen war, their intervention in Georgia and, in particular, taking Crimea and bullying the Ukrainians in 2014, followed by their actions in Syria. This led Putin to believe that the Russian military was competent and professional. Of course, that turned out to be incorrect. Moreover, the war in Ukraine is on a different scale. The Ukrainians are professional, motivated, well-trained, determined and are fighting back in a sophisticated and effective way. The Russian military was not prepared for such opposition.

What is new about what we are seeing, in terms of the operational art of war in Ukraine? What is old?

Much of what is taking place in Ukraine would make perfect sense to a World War II commander. Drones, the communications technology, the intelligence-gathering technology and the satellites would be quite awesome to them. But the basics of attrition and maneuver and of where you hold the line and where you don't hold the line, especially the importance of logistics, are timeless. On that point, the Russians have really encountered problems with the basics of logistics. Keeping supply lines open is just fundamental to war.

The war in Ukraine is on a much smaller scale than what we saw in World War II. But the fundamentals are much the same. What is different from previous decades, and World War II in particular, is the precision of modern weapons. The Russians had a number of precision-guided weapons, but they did not use them effectively in the early stages of the war. Instead of hitting military targets, the Russians used them against civilian targets. That was painful for the Ukrainians, but it did not actually help Russia on the battlefield. By comparison, the Ukrainians have used the American HIMARS system and other long-range weapons to focus on specific targets of value, as opposed to the Russians. The Ukrainians have learned to use drones and other intelligence assets and specific targeting information very effectively. It really is quite impressive.

Many different narratives are being imposed on the war in Ukraine. Many of them are premature. One I have been following closely in the mainstream media is that Javelin and other ATGMs have somehow made the tank obsolete. That is an old and repeatedly disproved claim. What are your thoughts?

The tank has always been a subject of debate. For example, in the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, many tanks were lost. How? From other tanks. The main anti-tank weapon is often another tank. The fact is, if you want to move a distance with firepower and have a degree of protection over difficult terrain, it is going to end up looking like a tank. Anything can be vulnerable on the modern battlefield, because if you can be seen you can be hit. That having been said, you still need to move people and firepower on the battlefield. Of course there are forms of deception and finding cover and using artillery and infantry to screen and protect your forces from short-range anti-tank systems.

This is why combined arms is critical on the modern battlefield; every system has a role to play. You can't isolate the tank and say that it's gone and everything else stays. There is always going to be a role for tanks. Will the balance of systems on the battlefield change in the future? Of course. UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] are now being used instead of manned aircraft for certain missions. But that doesn't mean you get rid of manned aircraft, because they can do things that a UAV can't. You use the best system for the mission.

Russia is waging a terror campaign using drones, missiles and artillery against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. What do we actually know about the effectiveness of targeting civilians as part of a larger strategy to win a war?

Unfortunately, we know a great deal about this. This is a political question about terrorizing populations and whether to do so or not. The question is: Does targeting civilians and population centers actually make the public turn on their own government?

The Allies during the Second World War did terrible things against German cities, especially toward the end. But there wasn't much that the German people could do about it. They lacked the means to change their government. In the case of Ukraine, there's absolutely no evidence that the attacks on civil society have made a difference to popular support, if anything, the Russian attacks have encouraged popular support for the war. Attacking civilian populations can backfire in that way. Terror bombing and attacking civil society does not necessarily gain the attacker a political victory.

What are some of the main things the Russian military has done incorrectly in the execution of their war in Ukraine? By comparison, what have the Ukrainians done right?

The Russians' main error is that they strategically underestimated their opponent. That is always a basic mistake: Never underestimate your enemy. The Russians also did not have enough infantry and manpower, more generally. They do not give enough autonomy and flexibility to junior officers and others lower down the chain of command to make decisions, improvise and address problems.

The Russians also failed to anticipate what the Ukrainians could do with accurate artillery. The Russians didn't disperse their ammunition enough. The Russian logistics system was too rigid, which makes it an easy target. What did the Ukrainians do right? They delegated initiative to quite small groups of forces and junior officers. The Ukrainians had to rely on taking the initiative against the Russians; that was central to their strategy and tactics.

The Ukrainians have not wasted their weaponry. They have thought hard about the targets that they most need to hit. When possible and where it made sense, the Ukrainians have used maneuver warfare to encircle the Russians rather than go directly at them in frontal assaults. The Ukrainians' ability to maneuver and encircle the Russians has caused them to panic — it'a demoralizing. In total, the Ukrainians have waged a very astute campaign against the Russians.

Armchair generals and other students of military history love counterfactuals and "what if" scenarios. One of those scenarios we see in response to the war in Ukraine is that the U.S. military and NATO would easily destroy the Russians in a conventional war. I am suspicious of such a conclusion, because in my opinion the Russian military and its leadership would approach such a scenario much differently than they did with Ukraine. How do you assess that counterfactual?

We just don't know. Counterfactuals are useful for testing theories of causation. What variable made the difference? If the Russians genuinely thought they were protecting their homeland, what we are seeing with Ukraine might have turned out differently. The Ukrainians are much more motivated in this fight than the Russians. Nuclear weapons are a variable here too. If the Russians really did think they were fighting for their own territory, they'd be much more likely to use nuclear weapons if they were losing. I am of the mind that the Russians still won't do such a thing in this conflict. Those types of questions can be explored using counterfactuals.

To answer your question, in a straight fight between the Americans and the Russians, the Americans would have won. American equipment, supplies and overall forces are just that much better. One of the surprising things about the war in Ukraine is the limited impact of Russian airpower. By comparison, the Americans would dominate the battlefield with their airpower — or at least would try to do so. We reasonably assumed that the Russians would do this in Ukraine. They weren't able to do it. If the Russians cannot dominate the Ukrainians with airpower, they would not be able to do it against the Americans.

The United States does not lose conventional battles very often. The United States does have difficulty with insurgencies, because in the end it is not worth the effort. Americans get impatient. In the end, the Americans would not have had much trouble with the Russian military that we are seeing in Ukraine.

What are some of the lessons from the war in Ukraine for NATO members and European militaries?

The Americans are going to fight in all domains. The British, the Germans and the French, for example, are not going to fight in all domains in the same way. They must think as an alliance: The European countries are not able to do everything on their own. A huge lesson from the war in Ukraine is that the intensity of modern warfare means you go through material and supplies very quickly. The stockpiles are never sufficient. The NATO countries have greatly depleted their supplies supporting Ukraine.

That means more resources are going to be put into building back up supplies. This means more ammunition, shells, rockets, missiles and the like for the future. This is not a new lesson, but it has to be relearned. Logistics are critical because even if you are making more ammunition and other supplies, you still have to get it all to the front.

Your new book focuses on command and leadership. What does the war in Ukraine tell us about Vladimir Putin?

Autocrats tend to make very bad decisions. Democracies make bad decisions too, but the difference is that autocracies believe in the possibility of big, bold, decisive moves, and they don't have people who dare to warn them about all that can go wrong. There are sycophantic advisers who don't dare to criticize the autocratic leader. This can cause horrible outcomes.

What's happened in Ukraine is a good example of how autocrats make mistakes. This war was Putin's decision. Putin had a theory about Ukraine, and did not confirm that theory with real experts who would tell him that he was wrong. Putin believed that Ukraine would crumble if pushed hard enough, and that turned out to be very wrong.

Fascism in a nutshell: Is America ready to trade democracy for cheap gas?

This recent New York Times headline offers a perfect prospective epitaph for America's ailing democracy and its potential imminent demise: "Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn't a Priority."

The details are grim. Voters "overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger," with relatively few calling it "the nation's most pressing problem," according to a new poll conducted for the Times by Siena College. More than one-third of independent voters in the poll "said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election," because economic concerns were more urgent. While 71 percent of voters agreed that "democracy was at risk," only 7 percent said that was the country's most important problem.

The Times' analysis conformed to a depressing current of conventional wisdom, concluding that "for many Americans, this year's midterm elections will be largely defined by rising inflation and other economic woes," reflecting a deeply rooted "cynicism" about government. This particular portrait reinforces what political scientists and other experts have long known about voting and other political behavior in this country.

Most Americans are relatively unsophisticated in their understanding of politics and public policy, and tend to be disengaged on issues beyond the few that appear to be of immediate concern to them, their families or their communities, barring a national emergency or crisis that demands collective attention. But even that kind of increased salience does not necessarily translate into an accurate or factual understanding of the policies in question. For example, the COVID pandemic certainly became a major national issue, but also fueled widespread disinformation about vaccines and public health measures. The 2020 election transfixed the nation for weeks, but Donald Trump's Big Lie narrative about that election has not faded away.

There are exceptions. Because of their experience navigating the color line, the contradictions of American democracy and the country's long history of white supremacy and racism, Black Americans, as a group, often tend to be more sophisticated than white Americans in terms of political decision-making.

Most Americans are not ideological, meaning that they do not possess a coherent and consistent worldview that drives voting and other political behavior. In the aggregate, the American people tend to take their cues from trusted elites about how they should think about politics and what they should do about it. Partisanship and voting are proxies for other social identities, not independent of them.

It is often said that the American people are increasingly polarized on politics. That's true enough, but it fundamentally reflects how the political elites, opinion leaders, and a small percentage of highly politically engaged individuals drive mass behavior.

As the New York Times/Siena College poll and accompanying analysis reinforces, immediate financial concerns and judgments about the economy (aka "pocketbook issues") appear to influence political behavior for many Americans. But even this commonplace observation is more complicated than it appears. "The economy," as a political decision tool, is fraught with pitfalls and inconsistencies. In the aggregate, it may not even matter nearly as much in determining political decision-making as many experts and other observers have long assumed. Political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels make this intervention in their book "Democracy for Realists":

[I]t is by no means obvious that voters can ascertain how incumbents have performed simply by assessing changes in their own welfare. If jobs have been lost in a recession, something is wrong, but is that the president's fault? If it is not, then voting on the basis of good or bad economic conditions may be no more efficacious than killing the pharaoh when the Nile fails to flood or voting against Woodrow Wilson when sharks attack the Jersey shore…. Or, as Theodore Roosevelt put it while he coped with the Panic of 1907, "When the average man loses his money he is simply like a wounded snake and strikes right or left at anything, innocent or the reverse, that presents itself as conspicuous in his mind."

An even more fundamental problem is that voters may have great difficulty accurately assessing changes in their welfare — even with respect to national economic conditions, which are highly salient and carefully monitored by professional economists in and out of government.

Many Americans do not think systematically about politics, society or the economy and are not likely to make connections between an apparently abstract concept like "democracy" and the specific issues they care about. But it's also true that political elites, media commentators and other opinion leaders who claim to believe in democracy have failed to explain to a broad public audience how and why democracy has a substantive impact on the average person's daily life.

There is an even more cynical explanation: As a group, America's elites do not particularly want a well-informed and highly engaged public. Such a public might pose an effective challenge to the outsized power of those elites, and by doing so expose how far they have imposed their narrow set of interests on public policy. Here is Chris Hedges, in a recent essay republished at Salon:

The step from dysfunctional democracy to full-blown fascism was, and will again be, a small one. The hatred for the ruling class, embodied by the establishment Republican and Democratic parties, which have merged into one ruling party, is nearly universal. The public, battling inflation that is at a 40-year high and cost the average U.S. household an additional $717 a month in July alone, will increasingly see any political figure or political party willing to attack the traditional ruling elites as an ally. The more crude, irrational or vulgar the attack, the more the disenfranchised rejoice. These sentiments are true here and in Europe, where energy costs are expected to rise by as much as 80 percent this winter and an inflation rate of 10 percent is eating away at incomes.

The reconfiguration of society under neoliberalism to exclusively benefit the billionaire class, the slashing and privatization of public services, including schools, hospitals and utilities, along with deindustrialization, the profligate pouring of state funds and resources into the war industry, at the expense of the nation's infrastructure and social services, and the building of the world's largest prison system and militarization of police, have predictable results.

At the heart of the problem is a loss of faith in traditional forms of government and democratic solutions.

In a recent interview with me for Salon, social psychologist Shawn Rosenberg offered similar observations, saying that "the Achilles heel of democracy is that the people, meaning the citizenry, do not understand the larger political and governmental system and its values," and are therefore "susceptible to a populist message." He mainly attributes this to America's dysfunctional educational system, which has "failed to educate the public to understand complex questions of society and politics":

It's not that large parts of the American public are inherently evil or bad. It's just that when they look around at the world, they don't understand what's going on. They don't understand why it's so hard to solve some of these problems we're facing, why it's so hard to govern and why they're supposed to respect people who they believe are obviously wrong. ... Right-wing populism offers simple answers and simple solutions and simple characterizations of what the world is like. Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and other such Republican leaders are offering that vision and those answers.

Meanwhile, members of the media and political classes often make the error of generalizing from their own experience and knowledge to the public as a whole, leading to a whole range of incorrect assumptions, misguided conclusions and overall misunderstandings. Thus we get the perpetual of real or feigned shock and surprise from pundits, commentators and mainstream political leaders when faced with the Republican Party's fascist campaign against American democracy. Political scientist Jonathan Renshon addressed this in an interview with Politico last June:

Absolutely nothing is stopping elites from using the same public opinion data that academics or the public has access to, and yet we still see compelling evidence that elites misread public opinion, either because of stereotypes they hold about the public, over-weighting their own preferences, or unequal exposure to particular constituencies or special interests. As we saw in the 2020 presidential election campaign, it's also not unusual for politicians to discount or dismiss public opinion polls when they don't like the results. In a larger sense, this is not surprising: There are many domains in which access to more or more accurate information doesn't necessarily reduce the tendency for bias to creep into our judgments.

In total, the recent New York Times poll just offers further evidence that the American people may claim to be concerned about "democracy," but are fundamentally unclear as to the cause of the crisis and have no idea what to do about it. It's actually worse than that, in that many Americans don't even pretend to care about democracy and are more concerned about lower prices for gas and groceries — and have no problem trading away their rights and freedoms for the promise of ending inflation.

In a similarly dark vein, a new CBS News poll finds that 63 percent of likely Democratic voters believe that a functioning democracy is more important than a strong economy, but that those numbers are more than reversed among Republicans, 70 percent of whom rank a "strong economy" (whatever that means) above a functioning democracy.

It's not hyperbolic or metaphorical to describe those numbers as a textbook example of how democracy gradually, and then more swiftly, rots away and succumbs to fascism. The naive faith that "it can't happen here" is severely misplaced: It's happening here right now.

George Conway: Trump 'will be convicted of multiple felonies'

Today's Republican Party has effectively become an authoritarian political cult led by Donald Trump. His millions of followers — with their votes, money, menace and potential or actual violence — have become his primary means of controlling the party and progressively undermining American democracy and society.

When Trump first emerged as a serious presidential candidate in 2016, Republican leaders and other right-wing elites believed they could control him and use him as a weapon in their revolutionary and reactionary struggle. They were both right and wrong about that.

Donald Trump is a political monster; Such leaders and forces have a mind and will all their own.

As president, Trump enacted policies that the Republican Party and larger white right have long dreamed of imposing on the American people, most notably rolling back taxes on the rich and seizing full control of the Supreme Court. That was a great victory in the long-term campaign to reverse the civil rights victories of the 20th and 21st century won by Black and brown people, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

But Donald Trump quickly become more powerful than the Republican Party, and not necessarily aligned with its leaders. His followers are far more loyal to him than to the party itself. When Trump and his followers attempted a violent coup on Jan. 6, 2021, many "mainstream" Republicans struggled to adjust to this new reality. Many people in the party understood that Trump was a fascist, perhaps a traitor and in a larger sense an existential threat to the United States. Within the Trump administration, there were discussions about removing him from office through the 25th Amendment. But ultimately most Republicans chose partisanship and power over genuine patriotism and the common good. In doing so, they made themselves de facto agents of American neofascism.

There were a few "traditional" Republicans and "principled" conservatives throughout the Trump years who for a variety of reasons spoke out against Donald Trump and walked away from the Republican Party and the MAGA movement. George Conway III was one of the loudest of those voices. He is a lawyer, a contributing columnist at the Washington Post and a founding member of the Lincoln Project. (He resigned from that organization in 2020 to spend more time with his family.)

Conway is a longtime Republican who left the party in 2018. By his own account, he was a candidate for various high-level positions in the Justice Department under the Trump administration. He is married to Kellyanne Conway, who was an adviser to Trump from 2017 to 2020.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Conway explains his belief that Donald Trump may finally be prosecuted, convicted and perhaps even imprisoned for violations of the Espionage Act and related crimes. Contrary to the opinions of other legal experts and political observers, Conway believes that Trump's ego will never permit him to admit guilt as part of a plea bargain agreement. He warns, however, that as Trump faces more pressure from the Department of Justice and other investigations into his obvious criminal wrongdoing, he may order his followers to unleash violence and destruction.

Conway also reflects on his own previous level of denial about the danger to the country embodied by Trump and the Republican fascist movement — and discusses how he went from thinking that Democrats and other members of "the left" were "hysterical" to realizing that their warnings were largely correct.

Toward the end of this conversation, Conway predicts that if Donald Trump faces incarceration or other serious punishment, he will turn against the Republican Party and seek to destroy it in an act of revenge. Ultimately, Trump's lasting legacy may be the destruction of the Republican Party as the political monster turns against its host and creator.

How are you feeling, given the country's democracy crisis and the rising neofascist tide? How do you make sense of all this?

I do think it's going to get better. But it's going to get worse before it gets better. Trump is basically a cornered animal. He's got all these legal proceedings bearing down on him. In addition, he is losing his touch and his connection to his public, because his act has become very tiresome. That explains why Trump is embracing the QAnon conspiracy. He's doing that because of his narcissism: He's feeling attacked, and for the first time in his life, he is facing real consequences for his actions. The DOJ and other investigations have caused Trump to suffer a narcissistic injury. He is a pathological narcissist, and by going to the QAnon people he is getting attention and his need for narcissistic fuel is being somewhat satisfied. That also explains why Trump would never criticize the QAnon conspiracy cult before. He likes people who like him. That is what really matters to him.

Trump is in a downward psychological, emotional and physical spiral. His embrace of QAnon shows how extreme his deterioration is. But here is the problem for the rest of us: Donald Trump is not going to go away immediately. He is going to try to use the electoral process, and threats of violence, to regain power and influence. Then Trump will say that he can't control what people do because they are so angry at how he is being treated by Joe Biden, Merrick Garland, the DOJ, the various prosecutors and judges, the news media and so on. Trump is going to make things much worse in this country before things finally get better.

If America were actually healthy, then Trump would be gone, a non-factor. In all likelihood, I believe that Trump gets the Republican nomination in 2024, unless he goes to prison before then. If Trump is convicted or it looks like he is going to be, he will try to take down as many people as possible with him. That's what malignant narcissists do.

There are all these pronouncements from pundits that Trump is done for and everything is going to be OK. That's wishful thinking. Trumpism and neofascism cannot just be wished away.

I hear you, but I believe we should take some solace, in that the reckoning is finally coming. At the very least, the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation is the most dangerous thing facing him. Almost from the moment it came out, I felt it was the shortest distance between him and an orange jumpsuit, for the simple reason that it is a simple case.

The analogy I like to use is this: Let's imagine that you are the U.S. attorney in New York, and you're investigating a mob boss. You're putting together a massive RICO case with lots of crimes involved, such as murders and gambling and loan sharking. It's a complicated case and all of a sudden you get a phone call that there is a jewel heist at Kennedy Airport. Guess who is driving the truck? The Don, the boss. That's almost literally what happened with Mar-a-Lago.

Given the details of the case and all the related charges, I don't know how the DOJ doesn't prosecute Trump. And I don't know how Trump is not convicted, especially if he is tried in the District of Columbia. I think the danger is going to come from the fact that the legal process will take at least a year. With all the other legal peril Trump is facing, he is going to threaten violence as a way of getting out of trouble. I don't know whether or not he will be as successful as he was on Jan. 6, but there is going to be some real pain in this country caused by Trump calling for violence by his followers.

Trump is also going to cause damage to the Republican Party. The party is finally going to realize that Trump will take them down with him. It is going to be very ugly all around. In the end, though, it will get better. Once Trump is dealt with, there's the other problem that must be confronted: Trump let all the termites into the basement of the house. The Big Lie and the election deniers and all the assorted lunatics who have taken up residence in the Republican Party and are now its base must be pushed out. We need two functioning, normal political parties that support democracy in this country. Right now, we only have one, and that is the Democrats. I don't know what's going to happen next — perhaps the Republican Party will collapse and something better will replace it.

Didn't Donald Trump simply give Republicans and so-called conservatives permission to be their true selves? This didn't happen overnight. How do you explain it?

There was always that radical extremist fringe on the right. That element did not dominate the Republican Party. Trump took advantage of that extreme element. The mainstream Republicans got pushed aside by a base that had become whipped up into frenzy by the extremists. Trump took advantage of that opening.

The right-wing media ecosystem is also a large part of the extremist turn, because it found a way to make money by dragging people farther and farther away from reality and creating a thirst for disinformation and hatred. White baby boomers who are feeling angry and resentful about how the country is changing demographically are also part of that extremist turn and the rise of Trump. There are many variables at play here, and it's going to take a long time to sort it all out.

Donald Trump is much more than a man. He is a symbol and an idea. What comes after him could be even more dangerous.

That is the big danger. We could end up with someone who is as manipulative as Trump, but a lot smarter. As a country, we have been very lucky that Donald Trump is not that smart. He is very impulsive and not contemplative or strategic. What happens if next time there is a demagogue who is as immoral as Trump, but far more intelligent?

How do you make sense of Trump's corrupting power? Why are people so attracted to him?

There are different explanations for the various groups of people on the right. Some of them overlap. But we should try to be specific. If you're talking about the political class, the Republican leadership, they're partly motivated by fear. Survival drives them. Republican elected officials know that if they say anything against Trump, they may lose their primaries. Staying in office is what drives them. They don't want to end up like Liz Cheney. She tells stories about how there were so many Republican senators who would walk up to her and say, "Thank you for doing what you're doing." Those same Republican senators would then do nothing to defend her publicly, because they're afraid of Trump and his voters.

The right-wing media makes money off Trump and all the conflict. The political consultants are afraid of losing business and money if they cross Trump and his base. There's a lot of intimidation involved. As for Trump's voters and followers, many of them are not that educated or choose to insulate themselves in the right-wing echo chamber, where they are fed lies and disinformation and rage. They choose to seal themselves off from reality. That's a type of collective narcissism. One way that Donald Trump sucks people in is that his voters and followers don't like the people who are criticizing him. Therefore they defend Trump no matter what — even if what he is doing is obviously wrong and indefensible. Trump's people do not want to admit that they are morally wrong.

As a society, what do we do about the Trump cult?

I honestly don't know. I'm just hoping that at some point it will exhaust itself and fade away. But that is not going to happen for a while, if at all. The only thing the rest of who are not in the Trump cult can do is to keep telling the truth.

I have a related concern. One of the problems right now on the left — and I understand the root of the sentiment — is that when a Republican or someone else on the right finally sees the light about Trump, there is a tendency to call them hypocrites, to attack them for supporting Trump and being a Republican. People attack Liz Cheney that way, saying that she voted for Trump and supported his policies. That's true. But when people see the light, you have to encourage them. You don't have to give them a pass for what they did in the past, but you should praise them for doing the right thing now by standing up against Trump and what he represents.

It's hard for a person to turn against Trump and leave the Republican Party. They are losing their friends and social network. The party was their home. We all tend to do what other people around us do. We want to be accepted by them. As human beings, we don't like to admit our mistakes.

Reflecting on my own behavior, I thoroughly own up to the fact that I voted for Donald Trump and supported him in 2016. That was a grave moral error on my part, and I own it. I'm happy — well, not happy, but willing — to admit my error. But the fact is, that some people can't do it that easily.

For my part, I engaged in wishful thinking. I truly thought that once Trump was president he would have some type of realization or epiphany about what that responsibility meant. I really thought that Trump would become a better person. Now I see that was an insane thing to believe. It was ridiculous. I was engaging in wishful thinking, and by doing that I was projecting my idealistic values about patriotism and love of country and selflessness onto Trump, who will never comprehend these values.

I finally realized that there is something deeply wrong with Donald Trump. I am not trained as a psychologist; I don't really understand how a mind like his works. But I've read about Hitler, Stalin and other tyrants. I didn't make the initial connection between them and Trump, but after a while I finally did.

Given that you know many of the people involved, why did these Republican elites, insiders, journalists and the like not tell the truth about how dangerous Trump really was? They were there. They witnessed it all. They told people in private that Trump was unhinged and unfit. Yet, they kept quiet — and then wrote books about it.

That has been the biggest revelation for me. I had thought that if Trump turned out to be as bad as people on the left were saying, then he would be cast aside by the Republicans and his inner circle. I naively thought that I would help encourage people to speak up by speaking out myself. By and large, most Republicans and other conservatives just stuck their heads in the sand. For me, that was one of the most shocking things about the last few years. There are so many different reasons that people don't do the right thing. As all these books by journalists are now revealing, people close to Trump knew how dangerous he is, and did nothing.

What does it mean to be a Republican right now?

I don't think it really means anything right now. For a lot of people, it means supporting Trump. That's one of the main reasons why I left the Republican Party and registered as an unaffiliated voter in March of 2018. At that point it was clear to me that the Republican Party had become a Trump personality cult. Four years later, it's much worse. I don't know what the Republican Party stands for now, other than placating Trump and opposing anything that the Democrats do just for the sake of opposing them. There are no real principles involved. The Republican Party doesn't even stand for America's national interests anymore. Look at what some Republicans have been saying about Russia's war against Ukraine.

How do we balance political expediency versus legal necessity? The law takes time, but Donald Trump is an imminent danger to American society right now. Something needs to be done, and we are running out of time.

At the end of the day, we have to follow the legal system and apply it evenhandedly — but that should be done as expeditiously as possible. The Justice Department has clearly come around to that understanding. They are now expanding their investigations of Jan. 6, Trump's other alleged crimes and related matters at the highest levels. I don't think it's going to take them very long to put together a case on the classified documents. And I don't think they have a choice, even if they wanted to resist prosecuting him. It's going to be sooner rather than later. Trump could easily be under both federal and state indictment at some point between Election Day [Nov. 8] and New Year's Day.

What do you think is going to happen with these criminal cases? Does he take a plea bargain? There's this fantasy among some liberal folks that Trump does a perp walk and goes to prison. I don't see that happening. If anything, Trump pays fines and takes a plea deal. Merrick Garland and the DOJ will not put a former president in prison.

I don't believe that Trump is going to plea bargain. I think he could go to prison, but it is more likely that he will serve home confinement. In all likelihood, he will be convicted of multiple felonies. I don't know if there's ever going to be a perp walk, but I don't think it's a fantasy either. There's a good chance that Trump will end up with a felony conviction. I know he has cut deals in civil cases, but that's just writing checks. To reiterate, I do not believe that Trump will plead out. This all goes so much to the core of Trump's identity that he will try to tear the country apart before he settles one of these criminal cases.

That is a powerful statement.

Donald Trump will incite violence on his behalf. He will try to pretend it is something spontaneous. Does Trump have enough power and influence over his followers to threaten the republic? I don't think so. But I do think it's enough to be dangerous. Trump has enough influence that people could get hurt.

What are you most concerned about? And what, if anything, are you hopeful about, regarding the country's future?

What keeps me up at night is the violence that Trump could potentially cause. The danger of violence will increase as the 2024 election approaches. What gives me hope is that the legal reckoning is coming. Donald Trump has brought many people together. That is one of the great ironies of all this. People on the left and right have come together to oppose Trump and his movement. I am hopeful that the American people will be so exhausted by this whole saga that they will be drawn toward all the things that tie us together as a nation and people. Of course we may disagree with one another, and do so passionately. But in the end we are all Americans, and we have more in common than divides us. I hope we can get back to that and heal after Trump.

'A day of reckoning' is coming for Donald Trump. But it might not be jail: former federal prosecutor

America's democracy crisis will not end anytime soon. Donald Trump and his acolytes in the Republican-fascist party continue to incite acts of right-wing violence, including terrorism, on a nationwide scale as part of their plan to end American democracy and replace it with authoritarianism and one-party rule.

The Big Lie continues to spread across the United States. A majority of Republicans now subscribe to the repeatedly disproven theory that the 2020 Election was somehow illegitimate, that Trump is the "real" president and Joe Biden is a pretender and usurper. "MAGA" is American neofascism; it has fully conquered the Republican Party.

America's democracy crisis will not end anytime soon. Donald Trump and his acolytes in the Republican-fascist party continue to incite acts of right-wing violence, including terrorism, on a nationwide scale as part of their plan to end American democracy and replace it with authoritarianism and one-party rule.

The Big Lie continues to spread across the United States. A majority of Republicans now subscribe to the repeatedly disproven theory that the 2020 Election was somehow illegitimate, that Trump is the "real" president and Joe Biden is a pretender and usurper. "MAGA" is American neofascism; it has fully conquered the Republican Party.

This moment of crisis demands bold, immediate leadership and collective action, not just from Biden and other leading Democrats but from rank-and-file-Americans as well. But the urgency of stopping Trump and his forces is hamstrung by how the rule of law in a democracy operates slowly and justice often takes a very long time — if it ever does arrive.

Will Donald Trump eventually be prosecuted, convicted and then imprisoned for his apparent high crimes, which may include violating the Espionage Act? Attorney and author Kenneth Foard McCallion believes that the answer is probably no.

McCallion is a former Justice Department prosecutor who also worked for the New York State Attorney General's office as a prosecutor on Trump racketeering cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney and special assistant U.S. attorney, he focused on international fraud and counterintelligence cases that often involved Russian organized crime.

McCallion is also the author of several books, including "Profiles in Cowardice in the Trump Era" and "Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual-1."

In this wide-ranging conversation, he offers his view that Donald Trump, along with his inner circle and his businesses, operate like an organized crime family. McCallion says these attributes and behavior help to explain Trump's affinity for foreign demagogues and other corrupt elements, including Eastern European and Russian criminal organizations.

McCallion reflects on his personal experience prosecuting Trump and his organizations, and the challenges of going up against a man he describes as a likely sociopath and a skilled pathological liar.

McCallion explains the approach that Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice will likely take in prosecuting Trump for the government documents he stored at Mar-a-Lago and the events of Jan. 6. Any such prosecution will require both overwhelming irrefutable evidence and a simple and direct story to tell a jury about Trump's misdeeds. McCallion also says that contrary to some media reports, Trump can definitely still be prosecuted even if he announces he is running for president.

Toward the end of this conversation, McCallion outlines a likely scenario for the final disposition of such a prosecution. He believes that Trump may be brought down by a litany of civil lawsuits that will cripple him financially, not by a high-profile criminal case in which the former president is "perp-walked" in handcuffs and then sent to prison.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How are you feeling, given everything that's happening? With your expertise and experience, how do you process all these events? What are you seeing?

The next book I'm working on is actually titled "Civil War II," but the ending is yet to be written. Over the last few weeks, I've been shocked at the extent of what we are learning about the Espionage Act and the hiding of secret government documents by Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Why did he do that? I don't know. But I do believe that kind of hubris, and that inability to really let go of the mantel of the presidency, may in the end be his undoing. Trump has certainly left himself open for being prosecuted for serious crimes related to espionage and various other things.

There are encouraging signs. I was quite delighted that a friend and former mentor of mine, Raymond Dearie, who is a retired district judge from the Eastern District of New York, where I was in the U.S. attorney's office, will most likely be the special master [reviewing the Mar-a-Lago documents]. I was worried that the Justice Department and the attorney general had dozed off and napped for several months, but it appears they are hard at work now.

The Jan. 6 committee really gave the Department of Justice a lot of impetus and momentum. There are also good indications that justice may actually be done with the New York attorney general's [civil] case, and perhaps the Manhattan DA's [criminal] case too.

Is there actually anything shocking about any of the things Trump and his allies have done? Donald Trump has been a public criminal for decades. Jan. 6 was in many ways a predictable event and was announced beforehand. My point of view is pretty simple. We know who Donald Trump is. There is a long pattern of his evil behavior. What is "shocking" about any of this? He is utterly predictable.

Those of us who know Donald Trump also understand that he is probably beyond reformation and may actually be psychopathic. However, I think it's important to say that Donald Trump's behavior and presidency, and what he continues to do, has been a shock to the democratic system. We cannot lose the capacity to be outraged at Trump's behavior. We need to have that sense of outrage in order to protect the country's democratic institutions, which are under attack right now.

Where are the consequences for Donald Trump and his apparent criminal acts and other wrongdoing?

I do believe that the Justice Department probably should have moved much faster with the Mar-a-Lago documents, given that we are entering an election season. However, we need to uphold the principle that no man is above the law no matter what time of year it may be, political happenings or not.

It's never a convenient season for the rich and powerful to be held accountable. It's almost a perfect storm at this point between the Department of Justice investigation, the New York attorney general's investigation and various civil suits against Trump. The pot is boiling now in several different respects. One or more of these investigations will almost certainly lead to the undoing of the Trump Organization.

There is also significant personal liability for Donald Trump for the obstruction of justice and for a long list of crimes that are now being investigated. Attorney General Garland and the Justice Department really have to follow through this investigation to its logical conclusion. The evidence is overwhelming. Any honest prosecutor is not going to want to say, "I pulled my punches," or, "I let Donald Trump go just because he's the former president."

You have a lot of experience with Donald Trump. You faced him and his organization as a prosecutor. When you saw his candidacy in 2016 and then saw him win the election, what were you most afraid of?

I worked with the organized crime section of the Justice Department when I went up against Donald Trump and his lawyer, Roy Cohn. We were primarily investigating labor racketeering, involving unions that were dominated by various organized crime families, including the Teamsters and others. In our investigation, we found that Donald Trump and some other developers used their connections with organized crime to get immunity from strikes by entering into corrupt contracts — promising "no-show" jobs, for example. These corrupt contracts gave Trump and others a competitive advantage.

It quickly occurred to us, and I think it's apparent to all of us now, that Trump and his organization are just another organized crime family. They try to maintain the code of silence, but that hasn't been entirely successful. There is a complete disregard for the law. In terms of fraudulent intent, even if they could have made money honestly, Trump and his people — like many organized crime-controlled companies — try to cut corners.

They take advantage of their connections with organized crime and their connections with corrupt foreign leaders, such as Putin. Russian organized crime always had a very close connection with the Trump organization. After Trump's casinos in Atlantic City went under and the banks started pulling back their financing, Trump and his organization and his development projects have been financed through shady money from Eastern Europe and Russia, from the oligarchs.

They have been Trump's lifeblood for his financing. His worldview has always been oriented towards the countries where oligarchs and dirty money are prevalent. Donald Trump was dead set on attempting to convert the United States into a replica, to some extent, of the antidemocratic, authoritarian, oligarchical systems we see in Hungary, Russia and various other parts of Eastern Europe.

Given your experience with Trump, what did the news media and the American public fail to understand about this man? Or perhaps, what were they afraid to acknowledge?

Many people naively thought that Trump, despite his outlandish behavior, was just being hyperbolic and not seriously intentioned. What they didn't realize is that Trump bought into his own nonsensical worldview. Millions of adoring people worship Donald Trump — as he has said, he really could walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and his followers would still love him.

Did Trump really believe that the election was stolen from him in 2020? The frightening thing is that Trump has not only convinced many of his followers of that, he has probably convinced himself of that, which makes him the most dangerous kind of dictator or autocrat. He has lost all sense of any ability to pull back from the brink. Donald Trump is not restrained by any of the guardrails of our normal democratic processes. He and Steve Bannon and the rest of that inner circle have brought the United States to somewhere quite different than this country's ever been before.

But in the end, I do believe that the pendulum will swing back, much as it did with, for example, Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s with his Red scare. I truly think the wheel will turn and we're not going to go over the cliff.

Where does that hope and belief come from? Trump has escaped responsibility for decades.

As bad as things are now, and as divided as the country is, there have been other times in our past where we have faced great difficulties. Yet somehow we survived the turmoil and the storms and got to a better place. I think it's a constant struggle. We are in the midst of one of those fundamental struggles, with Trump and his movement and the assault on democracy and the rule of law.

As you said, Merrick Garland could have moved earlier. I'm one of the people who wondered what the hell he was waiting for: Lock him up! Help me understand what the law requires, versus what political expediency demands.

The Department of Justice has to be thorough here. When I was with the Department of Justice, as a young prosecutor, I'd be anxious to bring organized crime figures to trial. But like Trump, many heads of crime families delegate the dirty work to other people. So to nail Trump and hold him responsible beyond a reasonable doubt, you really don't want to leave anything to chance. You need overwhelming evidence.

I think we're really getting to the point where we have that critical mass, especially after the Mar-a-Lago search and the documents obtained there. That was a fumble by Trump on the five-yard line. He might well have gotten away with not facing a criminal indictment for all he had done before that, but he had the audacity and the hubris to take top secret government documents with him after leaving office.

People of ambition and of monumental ego, like Donald Trump, have blind spots. Trump is bringing himself down. What I really fear is that a smarter Trump-like figure, maybe like Ron DeSantis, could actually do a lot more damage than Donald Trump.

In my view, Trump is a criminal genius. When you go up against somebody like that in court, how do you prepare?

When I did my cases, it was much like building a brick house. You have to do it from the foundation up, but there's always a moment when a prosecutor has butterflies in his stomach. When you have to cross-examine a Trump-like figure or the head of an organized crime family or someone of that type more generally, there is anxiety even when you have overwhelming evidence against them

Remember, these people are pathological liars. I'm sure that Donald Trump, if he was given a polygraph, would pass with flying colors. It's a matter of experience, plus a natural sociopathic ability to lie.

Trump's had a lot of experience with lying and the courts. He has some pretty good counsel, but I think over the next few months that most of the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago are going to be turned back over to the Justice Department. We'll see the wheels of justice continue at that point. Letitia James, the attorney general in New York, will get a very solid result against the Trump Organization, as will the DA in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg. Those cases are not against Trump personally, but against his organization. His chief lieutenants will be brought down and face very substantial fines for their economic and financial sleight of hand.

What do you think the approach to prosecuting Trump will be? The evidence seems overwhelming, but nothing's decided until you're in court.

It has to be laid out very simply for the jurors. It's basically two plus two equals four. You have Trump with these documents, some of them in a basement, but some of these top-secret documents were found by the FBI next to his passport in a private part of his desk. These documents were close to him every day. Trump certainly had knowledge and awareness of the documents; he knew they were top secret. He knew they had been taken from the White House. I think that you would just put it to a jury that you don't leave your common sense and good reason at the door when you are sworn in as a juror.

We spend our entire lives evaluating people, separating truths from falsehoods and connecting the dots. It's much the same way that organized crime figures were brought down. Al Capone, for example, was put in prison not for the many murders he committed, but for tax fraud. With Trump, it will be the same thing. It's a very simple story you can tell. With top secret documents, the story tells itself.

What do you think Trump was doing with the top secret and other highly classified documents?

Actually, on this point, I give Trump somewhat the benefit of the doubt. I think his ego would not let him leave all the trappings of power back in the White House. In his mind, he had to take something. Now, did he foreclose the issue of selling the documents for money if necessary, or using them for political purposes? Those avenues were available to him as well, but I doubt Trump had a clear-cut plan. He knew they were top secret documents and he took them. It is not a requirement that the prosecution establish his intent, other than an intent and a willfulness to keep top secret documents out of the government archives and in his own personal possession. Mar-a-Lago is a place that is crawling with potential spies, Chinese and otherwise.

Donald Trump engaged in a flagrant violation of his national duty. That willfulness and intent and recklessness is, I believe, sufficient for a criminal conviction.

So how do you approach finding a jury where you won't have one person who is going to nullify in Trump's favor. That's the practical problem. Is it possible to find an honest jury that is not tainted by Trumpists?

In jury selection, I always tell a client: You're never going to get the jury that you want, but you want a jury that's going to call the balls and strikes the way they really are. You don't want jurors who are dead set against you and supporting the opposition. Through your jury challenges, you can just weed out those people as best you can. You have to keep in mind that a lot of people underestimate jurors. For example, in the Paul Manafort trial some of those jurors were actually predisposed to be favorable to Donald Trump's worldview. Yet they found that Paul Manafort had violated the law on several counts and should be held liable under the criminal laws.

The jury system is a risky one. It's somewhat of a mystery, even to me, with all my decades of experience. But by and large, the guilty are convicted and the innocent can go free in our system, with some notable exceptions of course. Some jurors are reached by external forces, organized crime, political or otherwise. But by and large, I think the system is more or less equitable. It will be a great day for the justice system when Trump and some of his chief lieutenants are held accountable.

How do you explain to the average person what a RICO case is? How would you approach that type of prosecution in the case of Trump?

The racketeering laws are extremely flexible. It is much like describing an organized crime family that has a certain structure. The person at the top is calling the shots and the other members may not know what each of the others are doing. However, they subscribe to and agree with the overarching principles and goals of the organized crime family. In this case, that is to keep Donald Trump and his minions in power, to hold onto the White House through means fair and foul — primarily foul. Trump and his minions reject the basic norms of democracy.

They've used mail and wire fraud and engaged in various other violations of federal and state law over an extended period of time as well. That is really the informal definition of a racketeering conspiracy. Trump and his minions have engaged in that behavior.

But I think that Garland and the Justice Department may well steer clear of an extremely complex RICO-type case and just go with some very pointed, targeted violations. These violations are clear: espionage and various other laws. There are the facts and evidence to support racketeering and conspiracy charges. But the problem is that the more you complexify a case, the more likely it is to run on for weeks. Jurors are human beings; you can start losing some of them.

In my opinion, the Garland Justice Department learned a lot from the Jan. 6 committee hearings. It's probably going to follow that more simplified, direct, powerful route in bringing its prosecutions.

What can the Department of Justice prove conclusively about Donald Trump in order to hold him criminally accountable? It is easy to list all of Trump's acts of perfidy, immortality and wrongdoing, but that may not be enough to prosecute and convict him. It may all be wrong, but is it clearly illegal?

I think the Justice Department is going to focus on two scenarios. One will be the events leading up to Jan. 6. The coordinating and fundraising, the attack on the Capitol, the attempted election subversion and related happenings. The Justice Department has built a pretty strong case that Trump was the lead instigator of that demonstration and the assault on Congress. The other focus will be on the Espionage Act and related charges regarding the documents at Mar-a-Lago.

What does the Department of Justice do if and when Trump announces that he is running for president? Do they have to hold off for another four years if he wins?

If the Department of Justice gets an indictment, it should happen sometime later this year. They wouldn't do it in the window from now to November, the political season, but maybe the end of this year or early next year. One of the things people don't realize, and maybe Trump doesn't realize, is that once he declares for the presidency he will not have the Republican National Committee and other groups paying for his legal defense at that particular point. Trump is an extremely cheap individual who will have to pay out of pocket for millions of dollars in legal fees.

The Justice Department will not stop or pause, except for the political season in the midterms. They will not stand down just because Trump is a presidential candidate. Whether he is a presidential candidate or not, Trump and his supporters are still going to say it's a political prosecution.

The best defense for Trump is to attack the prosecutors. The prosecutors have to take a few punches and be vilified in the press, as they were after the Mar-a-Lago search. Although he waited too long, Merrick Garland did hold a press conference, as well he should have. The Justice Department is not a punching bag. It's entitled to protect itself and its reputation.

Many observers are claiming that if Trump announces his candidacy, the Department of Justice will not proceed with prosecuting him because of some type of informal rule or guideline. Garland and the DOJ will pause everything at that point, and perhaps drop it entirely, because to prosecute a presidential candidate would look too "political."

Absolutely not. If they did such a thing, they would be violating their oaths and professional ethics. The rest of the country would be wondering why there's one set of laws for us and another set of law for Trump and his kind.

What happens if Donald Trump is prosecuted and not convicted? What are the next steps, as a legal matter?

I can see the O.J. Simpson scenario playing out here. O.J. beat the criminal rap, but he was done in by the civil cases. Although there's a focus on the Department of Justice investigation, there are a host of civil cases out there against Trump. Trump will be involved in litigation for years, whether or not he beats a criminal rap.

Many people with public platforms keep proclaiming that Donald Trump is going to jail. That it's inevitable and we are eventually going to see Trump do a perp walk. Is he going to jail, in any version of this universe? What are the real range of practical or realistic consequences for him?

If I were a betting man, I would not put the odds on Donald Trump being handcuffed and perp-walked with the press photographing him on the way to a jail cell. The Justice Department has to pursue the investigation to an indictment and then prosecute it. As you know, not every case reaches trial. There is always the possibility of plea deals. Yes, it is conceivable that Donald Trump might do some time. But it's more likely that there would be some sort of plea deal to some of these offenses, in order for Trump to avoid a jail sentence. Trump would have to allow himself to actually admit guilt for some of these crimes.

In the real world, yes, some of the guilty do escape justice. But with the focus on Trump and the evidence that's available, I believe there will be a day of reckoning. Exactly what the consequences are after that is anybody's guess.

Here is my best-case scenario. Donald Trump takes a plea offer. There are some fines and he agrees to not run for public office again. But he then continues to be a public menace, agitating for right-wing terrorism, threatening democracy, repeating Jan. 6 and inciting other unrest. But what message is sent if the Department of Justice makes a deal with him? If Trump is not convicted and put in jail, what does that mean for the future of the country?

Keeping Trump from the White House again is a real benefit to the country. He'd have to agree to that in any plea deal. Trump would have to explicitly promise not to run for public office again. Will he continue to agitate and attempt to grab press headlines? Of course, but the Republican Party and his followers, at some point, have to move on. Donald Trump has had his moment. In the end, the country will get past Donald Trump.

Former Republican strategist says her party can’t be salvaged: 'They just want to win at any cost'

The numerous catastrophes of the Age of Trump could all have been averted, or greatly mitigated. But too many Americans, including at the highest levels of government and society, instead chose to remain silent about the nature of the emergency, or to normalize Trump and the Republican-fascist movement as a slightly exaggerated version of "politics as usual."

Those who did speak out were frequently dismissed and mocked as alarmists by the mainstream media, while also being personally targeted for harassment, abuse and political revenge by Trump and his acolytes. That has been especially true of former Republicans and conservatives who spoke out against Trump, and were then branded as traitors and heretics by his followers and the right-wing rage machine.

Cheri Jacobus can claim to be one of the first Republican "Never Trumpers." A former media spokesperson at the Republican National Committee, she has years of experience as a conservative political strategist, communications expert and commentator. Jacobus is founder and president of the political consulting and PR firm Capitol Strategies PR, and has appeared on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CBS, PBS and ABC and other outlets. Her opinion essays have been featured in USA Today, the Guardian, the Hill, the Daily Beast, the Daily News and elsewhere.

In 2016, Jacobus unsuccessfully sued Donald Trump for defamation, claiming that his public attacks on her had resulted in millions of dollars in losses to her professional reputation and other harm. In this conversation, she discusses how the American news media and the rest of the country's political class normalized Trump and boosted his candidacy, in search of ratings, money, access and power. She also explains why so many leading Republicans and right-wing elites ultimately supported Trump even when they knew that he and his followers represented an extreme danger to the country.

Jacobus reflects on questions of accountability and penance for conservatives who betrayed their supposed principles and enabled Trumpism, and argues that many of the Republicans who have testified before the Jan. 6 committee — and are now being celebrated as patriotic heroes — are actually self-interested actors who should not be trusted. At the end of this conversation, Jacobus cautions that the Republican Party cannot be redeemed or rehabilitated and that Democrats and the public must act accordingly if American democracy is to survive.

Given all that is happening from the Jan. 6 hearings, the escalating assault on democracy by Trump and his allies, and what feels like a never-ending torrent of other troubles, how are you feeling? How do you make sense of it all?

I've been in this fight for seven years. I'm an original "Never Trumper." Donald Trump came after me and got me kicked off Fox News in October of 2015, because I publicly confirmed a Washington Post report that he had a super PAC. Ever since then, I became a target. Of course this was mainly Fox News, but also CNN. There are a lot of guilty parties.

This was very distressing to me, as someone who's been a part of the American news media for many decades. You know, I have a healthy cynicism about politics and political media. You know they're in it for the ratings. You know people aren't going to be perfect. But you still expect some basic level of decency and ethics. I was shaken to my core real early on with how the news media normalized and amplified Donald Trump.

All these years later, to see it's still going on — that is immensely disappointing. Donald Trump and these right-wing extremist Republicans and the bad guys more generally are winning, and have already won bigger than I ever could have feared.

What are your feelings about the House Jan. 6 hearings?

The hearings have been blockbusters. They exposed the breadth and depth of the effort to overturn an election, overtake our government by force and impose a type of government never seen or experienced in America. It should not have taken a year and half for us to get this information. We came close to losing our democracy and we are still in peril. But the hearing witnesses were credible, had a wealth of valuable information and were almost exclusively Republicans, so it's impossible to blame it all on the Democrats.

What about the Republicans who testified and the media narrative that presents them as heroes? I see few if any heroes there. They were coerced, or otherwise testified out of self-interest — including Cassidy Hutchinson. They have almost to a person said they were proud of having worked with the Trump regime and would vote for him and other Republicans in the future.

The witnesses are not heroes. They were under oath and had no choice. If they were heroes, they would have come forward 12 to 18 months ago. Cassidy Hutchinson even tried to go work for Trump at Mar-a-Lago after Jan. 6. If the coup had succeeded and Trump had forced his way back into office, these people would all still be with him. They were saving themselves with their testimony.

Do you still believe that Trump and his confederates will never be properly punished for their obvious crimes? We have this narrative that "the walls are closing in" everywhere. I remain very suspicious of that, and will not be satisfied until Trump is in prison for a long time.

Merrick Garland allowed Trump to keep those documents at Mar-a-Lago for a year and a half. He did not initiate the FBI raid — he merely gave his OK. He has harmed our democracy by not acting on the Jan. 6-related Trump crimes, the obstruction outlined in the Mueller report and other Trump crimes. I do believe that public pressure and the excellent work of the Jan. 6 committee is effectively pushing him into action, even though it's tardy. As well, Trump forced his hand by ignoring a subpoena to return the stolen documents, and now we know they were highly sensitive documents about nuclear weapons. It's almost as if Trump wanted this drama and showdown.

How do you explain the level of denial from people in the mainstream media, the political class and other professional smart people about Trump and his fascist movement? They are stuck on this hamster wheel of supposed shock and surprise. To me, it's sickening to watch.

Everybody in the American political establishment and those circles in Washington knew what Trump was. That includes the Republicans and the media. They just didn't think he was going to win. They thought they were going to have their fun. I left the Republican Party the day after they nominated Trump. People kept asking me, "Why are you doing that? He's going to lose. We're all going to pull back together."

I didn't want to sit at that table. I couldn't imagine being in strategy meetings with people who had ever been fine or accepting of Trump. When he won, I was already well along in my decision to leave the Republican Party. I didn't need to wait to be convinced. I already knew how bad it was.

I try to call out corruption on both sides of the aisle. There are Never Trumpers who I believe are frauds. Maybe they started out doing the right thing but along the way turned it into a grift. I welcome everybody. That includes people who worked for Trump and changed their minds. Or maybe they just, for the sake of history, wanted to end up on the right side.

I also don't trust the people who have always been very successful in politics and media, and who flip-flopped back and forth and claimed that they didn't know how bad Trump really was. They knew how bad he was. They were just trying to get something out of Trump. When it didn't work out, they backed off.

The professional centrist types and the Beltway careerists are some of the worst offenders in terms of being in perpetual denial about Trumpism and what that man and his movement did to the country. They truly believe that a return to "normal" is possible.

They're not in denial. They all know, and have always known, what Trump is. They put their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. You would not believe all the messages I have from people who work professionally in politics and media who never thought he could win and who opposed him. But then those same people turned around and got in line. They wanted to keep their TV contracts and their lobbying gigs. They wanted to keep their place as a cog in the wheel. Where else were they going to go? They saw what happened to me. The professional politics and media types don't want to take the risk of being retaliated against and punished.

What do you say to those in the media and political classes, or among the public, who argue that the best way to defeat Trump and his fascist movement is to ignore him — that taking away the attention will weaken him?

You can't ignore Donald Trump. He is too dangerous. One of the main problems now is that Trump has successfully said to his followers, "Only pay attention to Fox or Breitbart or Newsmax. Everybody else is fake news. They're all lying to you." Once you put those tens of millions of people in an information vacuum with their blinders on, we are in very dangerous territory as a society.

The Trumpists and Republicans and others who follow him don't care about democracy and a good society. It is tribalism. All they care about is their side winning. They like the white supremacy. They like the misogyny. They like the fighting and chaos. They like the idea of beating up on people they view as being below them or too different from them.

His followers also like the feeling of belonging, the feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves. It makes them feel smart and strong. In their minds, being MAGA and in TrumpWorld gives them a sense of importance and an identity they may have never felt before in their entire lives.

There are other people, however, who, if they had accurate information about reality, the news and politics more generally, might change their minds about Trump. Those people are in information silos. The Republicans and other members of the right know that once you put people in these information silos, blocking them off from accurate information, you control them. You control what they know. They think they're informed because they spend a lot of time in these spaces consuming information. Some of these persuadable voters can be pulled away from the Republican Party and Trump. Close elections are won or lost on these margins.

As someone who was a Republican insider, how do you explain this version of the Republican Party? How did it come into existence?

When I first started out in politics, I was working for Bob Michel. He was House Republican leader at the time. There was this weird right-wing fringe element here and there in the party and conservative movement, but they were nowhere near as prevalent as they would become years later.

When the Republicans took over Congress in the mid '90s, these fringe elements got more power. They were

part of a coalition, and they were going to get something as part of that bargain with the Republican leadership. That fringe became stronger until it was able to bully and drown out the more reasonable voices in the Republican Party and conservative movement. The extremists are not interested in compromise with the Democrats to advance legislation that would be in everyone's interest. They just want to win at any cost.

Did Trump transform the Republican Party, or did he just give them permission to be their true selves?

Trump boiled the frog slowly. There are Republicans who say and believe things and tolerate behavior now because of Trump that they would not have 10 years ago. More generally, Trump and his allies were able to move Republican voters to become more extreme. What they did is really a type of brainwashing, for lack of a better word.

The news media is also to blame for this discord and extremism. When I started out in politics, 80% of Americans were more or less in the center or slightly to the left or right of it. But the news media got to a point where they only wanted to highlight the conflict between the extremes on either side. They want drama. They want fights.

I used to be on TV all the time. But what happened is that Fox would want me to come on only if I stuck to certain talking points and had a far right-wing perspective on a given topic. Fox usually wanted catfights. They actually used that language. Fox wanted that drama. And if I was not sufficiently right-wing or if I wasn't going to say the thing that would cause fireworks and draw eyeballs and create drama and controversy, they weren't interested.

A reasonable moderate that actually knows her stuff, especially if she's a woman, was not something Fox wanted. So they started dumbing down the entire political debate. The cable networks more generally do that now. The result is that the public is done a disservice and are not in a position to really learn what is going on in politics and the world from the 24/7 news cycle.

What about your Republican colleagues who made the bargain with Trumpism? What was their calculus? Was it just power and money? Was it ideology? Something else? You know many of these people personally.

Some of them reasoned that Trump was going to be nominated, so let's back him. Others didn't jump on board with Trump until he won. Others backed Trump because they wanted to fit in and still be able to go to their monthly Republican Women's Club meeting. Those higher up in the food chain wanted to keep their lobbying and TV jobs.

What does Donald Trump represent to you?

He's absolutely a corrupt crook. I wouldn't be surprised if we find out that he is owned by Russia and Putin. Trump is an unbelievably evil human being. I believe that he is one of the most evil people that we've ever seen in American public life. He brings out the worst in people. Once Trump is emboldened a little bit, he doesn't stop, he keeps going. The biggest mistake Democrats made was not impeaching Trump for obstruction of justice as proven in the Mueller report.

Once he knew they were going to back down, he felt he could do whatever he wanted, and he has. The world is paying a price. And then to see all the people who follow him and deny what he is, or think it doesn't matter. It's disheartening. And I do not believe that the United States is going to recover from Donald Trump and what he did in my lifetime.

We defeated him. Democrats were given the majority. One of the main reasons the Democrats were put in power is because the American people wanted accountability and justice. We don't have it yet. If Donald Trump is not punished for his crimes, then this country is done for.

It should be easy to attack and defeat Trump and the Republicans, based on the literal harm and death their policies have caused and continue to cause. Their actual policies are unpopular across the board. Yet the Republicans have, for the most part, gained the momentum. What advice would you give the Democrats about messaging and strategy?

Everything has to be about the Jan. 6 hearings — getting that information out to the American people and keeping it front and center. This has to be done on the local level and through other means, not just through national news media.

Communicate clearly to the American people and those Fox viewers and Republicans and others who back Trump that are persuadable. Tell them that what Trump did on Jan. 6 is treason. Don't be hyperbolic. Focus on the facts and information. Convince those people who can be convinced. Don't fight with people who you're never going to convince. Tell these Republican persuadables, "This is no longer the party that you were once a part of."

Don't shame people because they've been Republicans for 40 years. Convince them that the party they're with now is not what they think it is, it's not what they remember. I guarantee you that many of these people are in that information silo and do not understand how much the Republican Party has changed for the worse.

In addition, some of the best spokespeople in the Democrat Party are not visible enough. For example, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Those are the people who should be on the news all the time on Sundays, and even on the opinion shows. Republicans are using every tool in their toolbox and then some. Democrats are not — and they're the majority party in Congress.

What about accountability for the Republicans who helped to build this monster? There's a whole class of consultants, advisers, elected officials, media commentators and activists who helped to birth American neofascism. They should not be allowed to wash their hands of it all just by announcing they no longer support Donald Trump.

There are different levels here. Everybody didn't help to build this monster in the same way. Yes, there are political consultants and/or advertising experts who did such a thing. There are sincere Never Trumpers like me who can help the Democrats. There are some things I regret — but to want me to do penance because I was a Republican? You are not going to win over these persuadable Republican voters and win elections if the approach is to make them feel guilty.

That kind of message is not going to work for people who are still Republicans but could be won over if they had different sources of news and other information outside the right-wing echo chamber. In the end, there were some people who were more responsible for getting us to this point with Trump and this democracy crisis. One of my errors was actually believing that the Republican Party was a "big tent." Now I realize that was absolutely not true. Hindsight is 20/20. When should I have known that the Republican Party wasn't really a big tent? I am still grappling with that.

So many centrist types and others, especially in the media class, have this standard line where they say that Republican elected officials and party elites, the news media personalities, the strategists and the like don't actually believe what they are saying. In other words, these talking points about "critical race theory" or "grooming" or the "great replacement" are so ridiculous they don't really believe it. My response is: Who cares? They are saying those things because it works to win elections and gain power. And the people who make excuses for them are just protecting their peer group.

It doesn't matter if the Republican elites believe what they are saying, because they are getting their public to believe it. I don't care what Tucker Carlson believes. I care that Tucker Carlson has a huge platform, and he's saying things that are getting people killed. I don't care if he believes it or not. He's doing it. Is the problem with Rupert Murdoch, for giving him a platform?

It doesn't matter if they believe it. They're doing it. They have no conscience. They're doing it because they know how to fool the rubes. They know how to get people to be OK with it. And I hate to say it, but: American voters — are they stupid? Some of them are, yes. We've seen the stupid people at the Trump rallies. There are others who think they're informed because they've been told not to watch other media except Fox. They've been told that everybody else is lying to them. They think if they get the newsletters from Judicial Watch or Heritage Foundation, and they watch Fox and go to political gatherings that they are being informed. Again, they are not.

Can this Republican Party be rehabilitated or otherwise saved after Donald Trump?

I left the party the day after they nominated Trump. I'd been an RNC spokesperson. I've worked on Capitol Hill. For years, I had been a lobbyist. I was a TV pundit. All of it. I left the party, because I knew that it was over. Is the Republican Party salvageable? No. I didn't think it was salvageable even if Trump had lost in 2016.

My fear is that the Democrats are still pretending that the Republican Party can be saved. They are pretending this is true because they are afraid to directly take on the Republican Party and the horrible things it now represents and has done. The Democrats in Congress are afraid that if they push for indictments for the Republicans who aided and abetted Trump and his coup, there will be retaliation when and if the Republicans take back control of the House and Senate. That's the driving force now behind a lot of the reticence on the part of Democrats: fear.

Psychiatrist and former hostage negotiator breaks down the right’s 'psychological adhesion' to Trump

In a series of recent decisions that have taken away women's reproductive rights and freedoms, given guns more protection than human lives, neutered the federal government's power to protect the environment in a moment of global climate disaster and further dissolved the separation of church and state, the radical right-wing justices on the Supreme Court are attempting to force American society back to the Gilded Age if not before.

As a practical matter, the new-old America that the Supreme Court is serving as a wicked midwife for will be a society where women, Black and brown people, gays and lesbians, and other marginalized groups will have their basic civil and human rights greatly reduced, if not stripped away altogether.

This is a judicial coup by a nakedly partisan institution that is publicly collaborating with the Republican-fascist movement to end America's multiracial, pluralist democracy. To this point, the response of Democratic leaders, including President Biden, has been pathetically, pitiably, embarrassingly weak.

Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Dobbs case that reversed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, House Democrats responded by singing "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps.

Two weeks later, the Biden administration finally responded to the court's evisceration of reproductive rights and freedoms by issuing an executive order that enhances some protections for women seeking reproductive health services as well as their medical providers. The executive order is intended to "protect access to medication abortion," emergency medical care for pregnant people and contraception. It mandates both the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services to defend the rights of women who need to travel across state lines to access reproductive health care and to ensure that those who experience pregnancy-related medical emergencies can access the care they need, no matter where they are in the country.

It had been clear for at least two months how the Supreme Court would rule in the Dobbs case; nothing about this decision came as a surprise. Yet for some reason, the Biden administration took two weeks to respond. When it finally did so, as Claire Lampen writes at the Cut, Biden's response was wholly insufficient to the challenge. Republicans are openly pursuing "new laws that penalize not just providers but also patients, opening them up to surveillance by their neighbors ... and by data brokers," Lampen notes, as in Missouri's attempt "to incentivize private citizens to report people they suspect of crossing state lines" to terminate a pregnancy. Some legislators have already "proposed criminally charging patients directly," and sincerely intend to "pass a federal abortion ban, reconsider gay marriage, scrap the right to birth control."

Joe Biden continues to oppose expanding the Supreme Court in order to neutralize its radical right-wing justices, and has declined to explore allowing access to abortion and other reproductive health services on federal land, including military bases. He now says he supports a Senate filibuster "carve-out" on the issue of reproductive rights, but has done nothing to make that happen. In a statement to the Washington Post on Saturday, the Biden administration even suggested that those who want a more robust defense of women's reproductive rights and freedoms are "out of step" with "the mainstream of the Democratic Party."

Have today's Democrats forgotten how to fight? Or are they refusing to do so because too many of them are beholden to the same moneyed interests that also back the Republican-fascists and the "conservative" movement? Whatever the explanation, at a moment when America desperately needs spirited defenders of democracy, the Democratic Party's leaders are acting demoralized, with little fighting spirit.

In a recent essay at Medium, Dr. Mark Goulston, a leading psychiatrist, former FBI hostage negotiation trainer and the author of the bestsellers "Just Listen" and "Talking to 'Crazy,'" offers a provocative explanation for the Democratic Party's weakness. He argues that Democrats are "highly conflict avoidant" and that such a temperament has made them "mincemeat to the vast majority of the GOP who is allegiant to Donald Trump."

In my recent conversation with Goulston, he expanded on this analysis, arguing that Democrats keep losing to the Republicans because they refuse to speak passionately, clearly and in declarative terms to the American people. He warns that Republicans, especially Trump loyalists, are bullies who embrace and welcome conflict, and that Democrats do not fight back effectively because they refuse to acknowledge the reality that bullies must be confronted and cannot be negotiated with or defeated with rational arguments. Goulston further explains that Trump's followers remain loyal to him precisely because of his antisocial and anti-human behavior, not despite it.

Goulston also explains that many members of America's political class and the news media are naive or in denial about the nature of human evil, and therefore continue to express shock and surprise at each new revelation about the obvious crimes of the Trump regime. At the end of this conversation Goulston shares the advice he would give to Biden and other Democratic leaders about how to break their pattern of self-defeating behavior and formulate a winning plan to defeat the Republicans and preserve American democracy.

American society is experiencing multiple crises at once. Democracy is in crisis, and fascism is in the ascendancy. The pandemic has killed more than a million people in this country. There is extreme social inequality. There are mass shootings. The country is in a state of perennial grief and mourning but with no real catharsis or reckoning. It feels like America is on the verge of self-destruction, a form of societal and political suicide. How are you making sense of all this?

What you are describing is not just one moment of "suicidality." There are actually several moments or a prolonged period of time where people who feel suicidal form psychological adhesions to death as a way to take away their pain. It's not a psychological attachment, because a person can reason through that. A psychological adhesion is different: A person tucks that in their back pocket, so to speak. When you get slightly past the impulse, you reassure everybody: "I'm fine." But in your back pocket is this option, this exit strategy, this permanent solution to a temporary problem that you can always exercise if things get really bad. People don't talk about it because they don't want to scare others.

People who are really depressed and suicidal feel despair at the end. If you break down the word despair, it means "unpaired." Unpaired with the future, hopeless. Unpaired with the ability to get out of the challenging situation. You feel helpless, powerless, useless, worthless, meaningless and purposeless. When those feelings are all lined up like some dark one-armed slot machine, it appears pointless to go on. Death is viewed as a way to take the pain away. We are seeing this on a societal level.

America is also in the midst of a moral crisis. Fascism is a form of evil. What Trumpism has wrought and encouraged is fundamentally evil, yet the country's leaders and the larger political and news media class appear terrified of using the appropriate moral language.

It is important to identify evil at the earliest opportunity and then to stop it. You have to confront and stop evil in order to protect the people that you care about. You also need to identify evil in order to escape it. Most people we encounter are not evil. We are lucky in that way. But evil people do in fact exist. Denial of that fact is not healthy.

As a clinician, when you look at Donald Trump and his followers, what do you see?

The people that have trouble with conflict are not bullies. Bullies like to stir up conflict. Such people can get the best of us not only through their bullying behavior but also through their whining and excuse-making behavior. They can outrage us with their behavior. But if we are the type of person who is uncomfortable becoming enraged, then we will do everything we can to suppress our desire to confront that bully, to fight back, to stand up to them in a strong way.

As soon as the bully sees that we are restraining ourselves, then they push us harder from being outraged to turning that anger inward through a dynamic I call "in-rage." Most people are so uncomfortable with their anger and rage they use almost all their energy to keep a lid on their feelings. Many Democrats, and other rational-minded people more generally, believe in respectful discourse. Those feelings of rage, and how the bully behaves, neuters and neutralizes them.

Here is how to confront a bully. Step one, identify those bullies in your life. Step two, never expect them to act differently when you talk with them. Never expect them to be decent because that's not who they are. Step three, always hold a bit of yourself back so that you're not off balance if the bully tries to provoke you. Finally, when the bully tries to provoke you, look clearly in their eyes. Stare at them firmly.

Don't try to intimidate them, but hold their gaze. By doing that you are communicating to the bully: "You know and I know what you just did — and it didn't work." When you communicate that in a measured way, the bully is going to get more agitated. You can then try to engage the bully in a reasonable way or decide to disengage. Tell the bully, "If what you have to say is important, you need to talk to me instead of at me." You just hold your ground from there.

Why are so many members of America's political class and the mainstream media repeatedly "shocked" and "stunned" by Donald Trump's antisocial and anti-human behavior? This is a common reaction to the "revelations" about Jan. 6 and the violence at the Capitol, including Trump wishing death on Mike Pence. Trump has behaved this way for most if not all of his public life. If a person keeps being shocked by obvious behavior, what does that reveal about their personality defects? Are they really shocked, or are they just pretending?

The reason they're shocked is because a person cannot be partially sociopathic or narcissistic. It's a slippery road when you allow sociopaths or narcissists to ride over you unchecked. The denial, and giving such people the benefit of the doubt, just encourages them.

People on the left, the Democrats especially, are also afraid to acknowledge the dark parts of their personalities, such as anger and rage. Such feelings fill them with shame. Therefore, they deny to themselves that Donald Trump and other such sociopaths and narcissists are so dangerous. Leading Democrats such as Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi need to learn to talk to the public in a very authoritative way. They smile and talk so rationally. They need to show some emotion and passion.

One of the reasons I believe Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton is that Donald Trump was declarative, and Hillary was explanatory. Hillary Clinton was showing the American people that she was really prepared for the responsibilities of being president of the United States. In an effort to be convincing, she wasn't compelling. Donald Trump was declarative, which meant you knew where he stood. You might not have agreed with him. But Trump was able to hook his base precisely because of how declarative he was, and is, in his speech.

Trump was also being a type of role model for his followers. He showed them that you don't have to sit on your anger and suppress it. You can act on it. Why keep in all that built-up frustration? Trump told his followers, "Let's go get even with whoever's bothering us! Join me, because we could all shoot someone in Times Square and still get elected! Hey, it's fun!"

Ultimately, Trump appeared on the stage and let the genie out of the bottle as a role model for unsuppressed and unrepressed thoughts and feelings. Many Americans of a certain background and political orientation who have a buildup of frustration and anger psychologically adhered themselves to Donald Trump. This is not a mere attachment. It is a psychological adhesion, which explains why they remain so loyal to him.

When the Supreme Court announced that it was taking away women's reproductive rights and freedoms, leading Democrats went outside on the Capitol steps and started singing. Nancy Pelosi read a poem. It was one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen. How do the Democratic Party's leaders see the world? Why would they default to that kind of pitiful behavior and think that's how you fight back against a bully?

Maybe they were singing to keep themselves from forcefully responding to the Republicans. They were trying to suppress their rage. It may also be that those Democrats were singing hymns to calm themselves down because they were being triggered, and they realized that it is dangerous to escalate with a sociopath or narcissist.

The latter are much more comfortable going off the cliff than most people are. They're going to push you to the limits of what you can tolerate emotionally. A sociopath or narcissist is not afraid of being outrageous. If it is your nature to be uncomfortable with becoming enraged, you're going to want to steer away from those feelings.

By comparison, the Republicans and Trump's other followers love becoming outraged. They use a vocabulary full of rageful words. They love that Trump is disrespectful to others, that he calls his enemies and people he dislikes names. Trump is getting his feelings off of his chest. His followers love that. Meanwhile, the Democrats just repress and suppress their dark feelings.

What do the Republicans and the larger right-wing movement understand about emotion that the Democrats do not?

Many Republicans, especially the likes of a Ted Cruz or Mitch McConnell, don't care about contradicting themselves. To them, it doesn't matter what they say. They're aligning themselves with who they perceive to be the person in power — in this case, Donald Trump — because they don't want to trigger his ire and they don't want to lose their own followers.

I'm guessing that a lot of the Republicans were raised by decent parents, and at least when they were children they were taught that certain values and ethics and morality were important. But being a politician became more important than those values. "Politician" became the core identity that supersedes other things.

In your recent article at Medium, you described the Democrats as being "highly conflict avoidant," and said that they deal with conflict in an unhealthy way, which helps explain why the Republicans and Trumpists are rolling over them. How does this unhealthy behavior manifest itself on a day-to-day basis?

They are hiding their legitimate outrage and other feelings under a mask of civility. They appear neutered in the eyes of the public because they are not expressing healthy, aggressive feelings. When someone who is neutered goes up against someone who is outrageous in their behavior, the neutered person loses.

If you had the opportunity to speak with President Biden in private what would you say to him?

I would ask him, "What is really going on?" I would keep pushing him on this question to get at the real answer. At some point Biden would say, "I'm a decent person but I am really angry at Trump and want him to get his comeuppance." Biden could never say that in public because it would be taken out of context.

Today's Democrats appear to be obsessed with compromise and finding an acceptable middle ground with the Republicans. But the Republicans only care about winning and power and are now openly willing to embrace fascism, political violence, white supremacy and other anti-democratic and anti-human values. In essence, this is an abusive relationship on a national scale — and the Democrats are content to keep being abused. How can they break this cycle?

If I was consulting for the Democratic Party's leadership, I would ask them, "What is your desired outcome?" They might say, "Well, the desired outcome is that we find a way to get the Republicans and Trump to listen to reason and that would in turn break their cult."

I would continue by asking them, "What's the specific approach that you're taking that you believe will get Trump's followers away from his cult?" I would continue pushing them by asking, "Do you actually believe that what you just said would work?"

I would get the Democrats to agree that their current approach is flawed and doomed to failure. Perhaps that would help them open up and admit that they don't know what else to do. I would continue pressing them by asking, "What has been your success rate these last four or so years?" In that moment, perhaps the Democratic Party's leadership could have some type of realization or epiphany and come up with a better plan.

You can't convince another person of their flawed approach to decision-making or life more generally. You have to get them to a point of self-discovery. Brainstorming with them is helpful too. "Good, now you're being open. Let's be open and see what might work. What do we know about these other kinds of personalities? What do we know about bullies?"

The Democratic Party's leaders need to have a moment where they realize: "We have to find a way to sound really angry, pissed off and insulted by Donald Trump and his followers. We have to do it a way so that whoever watches us knows that we're pissed off in no uncertain terms. We can't act like we are trying to sugarcoat our anger." That is how the Democrats can start to win.

Donald Trump is an 'American monster.' But how he was made is not so simple

In a recent New York Times column, Maureen Dowd describes Donald Trump as an "American monster." This is an entirely reasonable view, but American society is mired in such a state of malignant normality that this monster has tens of millions of followers, who worship his greed, criminality and cruelty.

Dowd contrasts Trump to the monster in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," who begins with "elegance of mind and sweetness of temperament, reading Goethe's 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' and gathering firewood for a poor family." But then his creator, Victor Frankenstein, abandons and rejects him, refusing to make him a mate:

The creature finds no one who does not recoil in fear and disgust from his stitched-together appearance, his yellow skin and eyes, and black lips. Embittered, he seeks revenge on his creator and the world.
'Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded,' he laments. 'I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.'
Before he disappears into the Arctic at the end of the book, he muses that once he had 'high thoughts of honour,' until his 'frightful catalogue' of malignant deeds piled up.
Shelley's monster, unlike ours, has self-awareness, and a reason to wreak havoc. He knows how to feel guilty and when to leave the stage. Our monster's malignity stems from pure narcissistic psychopathy — and he refuses to leave the stage or cease his vile mendacity.

Dowd surmises that it never occurred to Donald Trump that a president openly plotting a seditious coup "would be a debilitating, corrosive thing for the country. It was just another way for the Emperor of Chaos to burnish his title." The House Jan. 6 committee's first prime-time hearing, she writes, played out as "a horror story with predatory Proud Boys and a monster at its center that even Mary Shelley could have appreciated":

In his dystopian Inaugural speech, Trump promised to end 'American carnage. 'Instead, he delivered it. Now he needs to be held accountable for his attempted coup — and not just in the court of public opinion.

But who created this American monster? Donald Trump was not built by a deranged scientist in a secret lab. He is not an orphan, and did not emerge out of nowhere. He was the almost inevitable result of a decades-long assault by the "conservative" movement aimed at ending American democracy (especially multiracial democracy) and replacing it with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian state, perhaps organized under the system political theorist Sheldon Wolin described as "inverted totalitarianism."

As part of that long-term assault, most or all the historic victories of the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, the gay rights movement, the labor and environmental movements and other struggles for human dignity and a more just society are being rolled back. If this project succeeds, America's already threadbare social safety net will be virtually eliminated. White Christian fascists and corporate plutocrats will forge a ruling coalition with near-total dominion over American life and society. The separation of church and state, along with the guarantee of free speech and most of the Bill of Rights, will disappear.

There is no longer a "normal" or "traditional" version of the Republican Party for so-called conservatives to return to. Even those conservatives who have disavowed or denounced the Trump movement are implicated in his rise. They are like political Dr. Frankensteins, horrified by what they have created but unable to kill it. Over the course of decades, they painstakingly built the monster and created the blueprint for American fascism.

As Wajahat Ali wrote this week in the Daily Beast, some of Trump's "most prominent enablers" are now trying to distance themselves from the "ongoing, concentrated, right-wing effort to overturn the 2020 election":

Even though most of these ex-Trumpers will fail up in their careers—as is often the case in Washington, D.C. — it's important for the rest of us to recognize them as utterly complicit actors who deserve to wear that MAGA hat on their heads until the end of time….
If you believe that there is a 'team normal' in the modern GOP, then you'll also probably believe that fewer doors and arming teachers will reduce mass gun shootings, banning books will save your child from being transgender, and climate change is a hoax created by China.
Either way, you're not acknowledging that the GOP is now a weaponized cult that no longer produces 'rational' Republicans, but instead caters to the festering, fevered paranoid swamp of dangerous conspiracy theories and white supremacist ideologies. This persistent right-wing disinformation has now radicalized its base, in which many members believe violence is necessary to 'take back' their country. The reality is that Team Normal and Team Crazy both play for the GOP, wear the same uniforms, and, for now, worship the golden calf known as Trump.

Ultimately, Donald Trump is not some type of monstrous Other or outsider. He was not conjured up in some other dimension ruled by Lovecraftian demons, only to descend on America out of the ether to sow destruction, chaos, misery and death.

In reality, Donald Trump — as a man, a symbol and a political leader — and everything he embodies is the product of our society, driven by extreme social inequality, consumerism and greed, unfulfilled dreams, widespread alienation and loneliness, anti-intellectualism, racism and white supremacy, the cult of the spectacle, our fetish for violence and a range of related antisocial and anti-human values and tendencies.

In a recent essay for ScheerPost republished at Salon, Chris Hedges offers a powerful diagnosis of our corrupt and failing American political system, arguing that the House Jan. 6 committee will do nothing to correct it:

The two established wings of the oligarchy, the old Republican Party represented by politicians such as Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, and the Bush family, are now united with the Democratic Party elite into one ruling political entity. The ruling parties were already in lockstep for decades on the major issues, including: war, trade deals, austerity, the militarization of police, prisons, government surveillance and assaults on civil liberties. They worked in tandem to pervert and destroy democratic institutions on behalf of the rich and corporations. They desperately work together now to stave off the revolt by enraged and betrayed white working men and women who support Donald Trump and the far right.

There are other systemic failures as well. America's mainstream news media, through both habit and laziness, have approached Donald Trump, and American politics more generally, as a running narrative of "great men" (and, more recently, "great women"), singular figures who are the main characters in an unfolding drama largely independent of history, culture or economic reality.

This partly explains the media's obsession with polling and public opinion, the addiction to horserace coverage and the drive to identify "winners" and "losers" on a daily basis. Of course the mainstream media is also driven by profit, and compelled to shape the news so as not to offend advertisers or alienate the political establishment and other social and cultural elites.

Media practitioners are also trained to avoid moral language when describing domestic politics, although they routinely use such language when discussing foreign affairs, and especially Americans' official enemies. The result is that most mainstream American political journalism remains an exercise in stenography and superficial commentary, almost always bending the knee to such totems as "moderation," "normal politics," "fairness" and "balance," concepts that were likely never helpful or transparent and are now totally inadequate to the task of confronting America's democracy crisis.

Many in the media still refuse to see the Trump movement and the modern Republican Party as destructive revolutionary forces, rather than as traditional political movements with an investment in the existing system. At this point, the media's willful or compulsive refusal to comprehend the nature of the threat has become a pathology. Journalists at mainstream outlets would benefit greatly from reading "The Authoritarian Playbook: A Media Guide," a new report from the nonpartisan nonprofit group Protect Democracy. It offers the following advice:

To the extent that the authoritarian playbook has a central theme, it is that democratic erosion is a process of power concentration and consolidation. While all political actors seek to accumulate power, authoritarians, uniquely, seek to entrench that power and protect it from external checks. Experts generally agree that democracies don't tend to die at the hands of individuals alone. Rather, contemporary attacks on democracy only succeed when they are coordinated, systemic, and undertaken by broad parties or movements.

If Donald Trump the American monster is somehow banished from American political life — through criminal prosecution, advancing age or some other force — another such monster will rapidly appear. In fact, Ron DeSantis and other leading Republican-fascists are eagerly waiting for Trump to leave the stage, and could well turn out to be more competent and more effective than him. Trumpism is a hydra-headed movement, no longer dependent on Trump as an individual: Chop off one of its heads and another will grow. The only long-term solution is to drain the swamp that birthed the monster.

Cult expert Steven Hassan sees 95% chance of worsening pro-Trump violence

It has been almost a year and a half since Jan. 6, 2021, when Donald Trump and his cabal attempted to nullify the results of the presidential election, and by doing so effectively bring an end American democracy. By any reasonable standard, this was the greatest crime committed by an American president in the country's history.

Last Thursday night, the House committee tasked with investigating Jan. 6 and the larger threat to American democracy held the first in a series of televised hearings. Its preliminary findings are that Trump and numerous allies, including Republican members of Congress, orchestrated a sophisticated, well-funded, nationwide effort that included the Big Lie and other propaganda about "election fraud," dozens of spurious legal challenges designed to subvert the electoral outcome and undermine public faith in democracy, and other attempts to rig the outcome in Trump's favor.

The coup plot also involved premeditated political violence and terrorism as seen in the attack on the Capitol by right-wing paramilitaries and thousands of other Trump followers. Trump's coup plot also involved proposals to invoke martial law and use the military and other security forces to "confiscate" voting machines and presumably engage in other nefarious tasks as ordered.

The ultimate goal of this elaborate plot was for Trump to remain in power indefinitely as an political strongman who rules by declaring a perpetual "national emergency" or finding some other quasi-legal justification to end democratic government.

Trump and his cabal's plan came much closer to succeeding than most people recognized at the time. In that sense, the events of Jan. 6 were practice for a future coup attempt — one far more likely to succeed, given that America's pro-democracy forces are being defeated at almost every turn.

There are many people who would prefer to erase this fact from memory and history: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his intelligence services to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, with the goal of putting Donald Trump in power and thereby undermining and destabilizing American democracy. As confirmed again by the House Jan. 6 committee's presentation, Putin's plan was remarkably successful.

In fact, none of this is a revelation; with the exception of a few new details, all this information has been public knowledge for some time. The real power of the House committee's first hearing lay in efficiently connecting the dots, navigating a mountain of evidence, and ultimately framing a devastating case that Donald Trump and his co-conspirators should be prosecuted and convicted on numerous criminal charges.

In just over two hours, the committee provided new information that confirmed some of the rumors and rumblings around Trump's coup plot and the events of Jan. 6. Some of Trump's Cabinet members, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power following the attack on the Capitol. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly refused to consider this despite ample justifications given Trump's erratic and dangerous behavior.

Trump was reportedly elated that his followers wanted to kill Mike Pence for refusing to cooperate with the coup plot. But Trump cannot plausibly claim that he didn't know he had lost the election: He was repeatedly told by political advisers and legal experts, including Attorney General Bill Barr, that Joe Biden had won the election and that voter fraud had not played a role.

At least one Republican member of Congress sought a pardon from Trump for his role in the coup plot, a de facto admission of criminal culpability. As for the violence on Jan. 6, to a significant degree it was premeditated and planned well before Jan. 6 and Trump's speech urging his followers to march on the Capitol. Members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys have now been indicted by the Justice Department on charges of seditious conspiracy.

In total, as outlined by the House select committee during their first public hearing on Thursday, the unifying theme so far is that Donald Trump is a criminal mastermind, with a remarkable ability to corrupt the people around him by ensnaring them in a web of antisocial and pathological values and behavior. Donald Trump is a political cult leader, an apparent sociopath and an incipient fascist strongman who commands the loyalty of tens of millions of Americans.

To discuss the current state of the Trump cult I recently spoke with Steven Hassan, one of the world's leading experts on cults and other dangerous organizations, as well as how to deprogram people who have succumbed to "mind control." Hassan was once a senior member of the Unification Church, better known as the "Moonies." He is now founder and director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center and has written several bestselling books, including "Freedom of Mind," "Combating Cult Mind Control" and, most recently, "The Cult of Trump."

In this conversation, Hassan discusses Trump's enduring power over his followers and why it has outlasted his presidency. He argues that right-wing Christian churches, Fox News, conspiracy theorists, right-wing social media and other propaganda machines are keeping Trump's cultists loyal and further radicalizing them. He warns that the cult is actually bigger than Donald Trump and may outlast him, because "today's Republican Party is part of an authoritarian cult movement that hates democracy and freedom."

Hassan also reflects on his own experience as a cult member who was conditioned to be willing to kill on command. He warns that Trump's most loyal followers would likely obey such orders targeting Democrats, liberals, progressives, Muslims, black and brown people, or other designated enemies.

Donald Trump is a political cult leader, but he is no longer president. How does that influence his power over the cult members? What happens next?

My thesis was completely confirmed after Jan. 6 and all the efforts by the GOP to avoid being held accountable for their role in Trump's coup attempt.

I agreed to write "The Cult of Trump" with the knowledge that Trump was a malignant narcissist. He fits the stereotypical profile of a cult leader. I viewed him as the leader of a cult of personality. His business is also part of his cult. As I began to do the research for my book, it became very clear to me that he would not have been elected president if not for the thousands of new apostolic reformation ministers supporting him and then telling their millions of followers to believe in Trump as someone doing the work of God. They represent a right-wing Christian religious movement that does not believe in equality under the law, or in civil rights for women and those not of their faith. These right-wing Christian leaders want to destroy any type of organized effort to advance liberty and freedom and knowledge. Trump as a cult leader and authoritarian is a perfect fit for their beliefs.

What is the role of the Big Lie in Trump's cult and the larger movement?

The Big Lie operates on the assumption that the more extreme the lie, the average person cannot even imagine making up such a lie. The average person then rationalizes the Big Lie as being true because the opposite somehow cannot be true. The Big Lie is ultimately bigger than most people's ability to contemplate it. It is just too much of a lie to not be true. What solidifies it is constant repetition, and it also works because the leader projects the Big Lie onto some type of enemy. Mind control cults always need an enemy — a devil to focus people's anger and negative emotions on.

What is the relationship between the Republican Party and Trump's cult? So many journalists and other professional politics-watchers still do not understand that Trumpism is much bigger than one man, or that it's a mistake to say that the Republican Party was "taken over" by Trump and his cult.

Today's Republican Party is part of an authoritarian cult movement that hates democracy and freedom. They want blind obedience. They want people to distrust science and reason and critical thinking. Another example of how cults work is the belief that a person can create their own reality, where if a person truly believes something then it must be true. Of course that is ridiculous.

That is why it is important for the Department of Justice to prosecute Donald Trump and the other top Republicans who were involved in the coup attempt. A message needs to be sent to the cult members that reality exists and that there are consequences for criminal behavior. Right now, these Trump Republican cult members believe that manmade laws do not apply to them, because they exist on some higher plane or alternate reality.

The Trumpists and other fascists are now burning books they deem to be "dangerous" or "un-American," and targeting books by Black and brown authors or by and about the LGBTQ community. What is the role of book-burning and book-banning, in terms of cults and mind control?

Book burnings are an example of information control. That is a key part of the authoritarian cult. Book burnings are part of an escalating pattern that ends with arresting and killing journalists and other truth-tellers.

Republicans and other right-wing authoritarians have wanted to destroy public education for decades. Why? Because an educated citizen is what a democracy needs. To have a theocracy, for example, or some other type of authoritarian regime, you need uneducated citizens, especially young people. That is one of the main reasons why the right wing pushes for homeschooling and charter schools. The dumbing down of Americans is a hugely important part of their anti-democracy project.

Donald Trump has suggested that his followers must be ready to kill and die for his cause. He praises the Jan. 6 terrorists as patriots, victims and political prisoners. Michael Flynn has told people at his events that they should be prepared to "charge machine-gun nests" to defend their children against "critical race theory." How does this fit into the relationship between the cult leader and his followers?

I was taught such things when I was in the Moonies. I was told to be prepared, if North Korea invaded South Korea, to go to the front lines and die. I was later trained to die or kill on command without hesitation. Michael Flynn is an expert on military intelligence. He knows exactly what he is going to do. Flynn is creating an army of people to engage in a civil war.

Who do you think is likely to follow such orders?

We need to start with the military vets who feel betrayed by the U.S. government. Some of them may also have emotional or psychological issues as well. There are many veterans in the cult of Trump, and they're trained killers. If you make moral appeals and claim that you are acting in the name of God and country, then it is easy to get people to sacrifice their comfort and even their money, their marriage and their families for the cause. Once you make it into a matter of good and evil, and then psychologically condition a person that the other side are not really human, it is easy to get people to engage in lethal violence.

How do you explain Trump's enduring power over his followers, and over Republican voters as a whole?

The biggest single bloc of true believers are the members of right-wing Christian fundamentalist churches and other groups. These are authoritarian religions where the members believe that their pastor is an apostle who is directly connected to God and getting direct revelations.

If the pastor says, "God wants Trump," you're going to believe in Trump. If the pastor says, "God gave me a revelation where we are now following Ron DeSantis. God's taken the blessing away from Donald Trump," then those people are going to blindly follow DeSantis. Why? Because they're already in a mind-control cult.

How have Trump, the Republican Party and other right-wing leaders been able to successfully create an alternate reality for their followers?

It started with an increasingly extreme Republican Party and right-wing movement. They have their own media, churches and so forth. The members are just voting for the party now, without doing much critical thinking. It was incremental at first, but now the Trumpists are the hardcore base of the authoritarian political movement. These diehard Republicans and other conservatives are in Christian religious cults, or they've been sucked into QAnon and other apocalyptic, "end of days," great-reset conspiracy theories. It is all related.

Outsiders often say that Trump is dumb or stupid and make fun of his rallies. They say his speeches are incoherent. When I listen to Trump and observe his rallies, I see a dangerous and sophisticated propaganda machine and brainwashing operation. The use of repetition and the manipulation of emotions and violent imagery is highly intentional.

If they are already indoctrinated, these rallies and other repeated messaging are just more confirmation, reinforcement and community-building. It makes these Trump cultists feel like they are not alone, that they are part of a big powerful movement. Fox News is an integral part of this as well. When Fox News keeps claiming that it is the most powerful cable news network, that makes the viewers feel like they are part of a powerful community and movement. It is very strategic.

Many experts on national security, terrorism and related topics are warning that the United States is on the verge of a second civil war or a sustained right-wing insurgency, and that Jan. 6 was just the beginning. What is your estimate of the likelihood of Trump's cult members engaging in widespread violence?

Ninety-five percent. I am certain there will be a civil war or other type of massive violence. I say this as a former cult leader who wanted to take over America and thought that democracy was Satanic, and that we must take over the world for God. Part of that mission was getting rid of Satan's army. The likelihood of a second civil war in America, because of Trumpism and these other authoritarian cults, is very high.

Will the average Trump supporter participate in this violence?

I'm going to apply the rule of thirds: One-third will double down and engage in acts of violence. Another third will not follow the commands. The middle third will make their decision based on what their peers are doing. I wish the news media would understand the danger we're in. The people who believe that Donald Trump is an agent of God are going to be the ones committing most of these violent acts.

'Methodical' Merrick Garland 'fears no person' — and he's coming for Trump: legal scholar

Like other forms of fascism, authoritarianism and reactionary politics, Donald Trump's so-called movement is a symptom of deeper problems in society, not the cause. Trumpism is not a boil that can be lanced, thereby ending the infection. It's more like a tumor growing from the bones.

It's not exactly true that the Republican Party was conquered or "taken over" by the Trump movement, as many observers still perceive it. The seeds of Trumpism were planted in Republican soil decades ago, and found it a hospitable environment. It's more accurate to perceive Trumpism as the next evolutionary (or, more properly, devolutionary) stage of the Republican Party and the overall conservative movement. It's where right-wing politics were going in America, whether leading conservatives understood that or not.

To discuss the current state of the Trump movement and America's efforts to defeat it, I recently reached out to Norman Eisen, a senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution. He served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Donald Trump's first impeachment, and is the author of the new book "Overcoming Trumpery: How to Restore Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Democracy."

In this conversation, Eisen describes the power of "Trumpery," as he calls it — a combination of disdain for ethical restrictions, assault on the rule of law, incessant falsehood and disinformation, the shameless pursuit of personal and political interest, not the public interest, the exploitation and exacerbation of political division, and attacks on democracy itself. He also discusses why the Republican Party so enthusiastically mated with Trumpism in its quest for autocratic and near-dictatorial power and control over American government and society.

Eisen also discusses why so many members of America's mainstream news media remain in denial about the danger posed by Trump and his Republican-fascist movement and remain locked into to obsolete patterns of "both-sides-ism," "balance" and "neutrality" that are entirely inadequate to the country's worsening democracy crisis.

Toward the end of this conversation, Eisen counsels patience with Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department, suggesting and that the upcoming House committee hearings on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, will be crucial in holding Donald Trump and his cabal accountable for their obvious or likely crimes against democracy.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How are you feeling now, given America's democracy crisis and all the other challenges we face as a country and people?

Everybody has their own way of medicating their anxieties about our country's democracy. One of my forms of self-medication is to write books. "Overcoming Trumpery" is my fourth book, and this one was really born out of the alarm that I felt when I realized that Donald Trump may be out of the White House, but Trumpery was still with us. Moreover, Trumpery might even be more dangerous now than when Trump was in office. Trumpery is running amok in the GOP. It has really conquered one of our major political parties.

Why is it so challenging for many people to accept — especially the mainstream news media and other Beltway types — that the problem is much bigger than Donald Trump? That the real problem is not just Trump personally, but what he represents and what he has unleashed?

Yes, the problem is not the man himself, but rather the ideology and the approach to governance that he represents. Trumpery is an American-flavored form of the autocracy that we see from Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. That's all it is. The ideology is more dangerous than the man himself. The idea we are discussing is a hard sell for many, even though it is self-evident.

One of the traits of Trumpery is the attack on democracy. The press, to their credit, said, "These phony electors who were sent to Congress are not real." They called them They didn't treat Trump and John Eastman's cockamamie ideas about Congress throwing out Electoral College votes as being genuine. They said these are baseless ideas. The press also did not say that there was any substantial question as to whether Trump won the election or Biden did. They said that Trump lost and that he is lying about it. That is true objectivity. They did not hide behind some notion of "press neutrality." But now that Trump is no longer president they have fallen back to that habit.

Has there been some decision made in the media, like a kind of editorial consensus not to highlight the danger? What is going on here with the media's framing and agenda-setting?

I give the press credit. In a pre-Trump America, there were norms that applied in our government and politics. Trump transgressed those norms. The problem is, when you have a norm- and law-defying person like Trump you cannot continue to apply the old norms of journalism, such as neutrality.

That norm deems that if you're going to provide one side of the story then you have to provide the other side of the story. If something happens, you need to report it neutrally. Editorializing is for the editorial page. The inferences, the interpretation, that doesn't go in the news. But if you have a norm-transgressing figure like Donald Trump, then those journalistic norms have to adapt to that circumstance. We can't be static. That is why journalism in this country is stuck.

And thinking about the law, that is why the prosecutors are stuck. Why on earth has nobody prosecuted Trump? Because we have a norm that there is a very steep burden to prosecute an ex-president. We don't want to be like those countries where the winner prosecutes the loser in an election.

I do think that both are going to come unstuck, certainly on the prosecutors' side. The best way to overcome Trumpery is through prosecution. It sends a message to everyone that there are consequences for this kind of norm- and law-busting behavior that Trump and his alleged co-conspirators engaged in.

Why isn't Donald Trump in prison? Why haven't Trump's inner circle and the other coup plotters been prosecuted?

The Jan. 6 hearings in the House are going to be very important. The DOJ typically starts at the bottom and works their way up the food chain. They've done that with the hundreds of insurrectionists that they've charged. We know they're asking them about the involvement of the White House and other members of the inner circle. There are other signs that are pointing, at the very least, to a DOJ investigation.

Is Merrick Garland afraid to prosecute Trump and other members of his inner circle because of "norms" and "precedent" about holding a former president accountable? What do you think the legal and political calculus is?

Garland fears no person. I've known him for years and he is a great American jurist and lawyer. He has said that he's going to follow the evidence where it leads and apply the law without fear or favor. He's going to let the chips fall where they may. I believe him. He's very methodical. He's very deliberate.

There's some element of not bumping into the Jan. 6 committee's work. There are strong norms at work here: You don't stampede into prosecuting a president.

Garland also needed to restore another kind of norm — and that was the norm of a properly functioning Department of Justice. He's only a year and a half into his tenure, if even that long. He needed to get things settled down in the DOJ before he made such a momentous move. I have a lot of confidence in Merrick Garland's decision-making.

They are running out of time. What about the Jan. 6 committee's decision not to televise its work? I am of the opinion that most if not all of the hearings should have been on television to keep this in the public's consciousness for all these months.

They were gathering the evidence. The hearings are going to take place in June. Based on the evidence we've seen so far, those hearings are going to be very dynamic. Undoubtedly, even with all the leaks, we've just seen the tip of the iceberg. I believe they have time to do their Watergate-style hearings. A month is a lot more time now than it was in the 1970s. You can get a lot more done in a month now. People get bombarded with more information on their iPhones and via social media in an hour than you used to get in an entire day. The committee has ample time left. They wanted to be thorough and now we're going to see the results. I think they're going to be strong.

As you were watching the events unfold on Jan. 6, what were you thinking?

I was in a TV studio just a few blocks from the insurrection. I watched the video feed on multiple screens as the insurrection unfolded. As a student of the American political process, I felt horror at the fact that for first time since 1860 we had a disruption of the peaceful transfer of power in this country.

I felt that the warnings that I and others had made about the dangers of Trumpery had come to pass. I was sad to be proven right. I had said that this could lead to violence and that Donald Trump was playing with fire. I was not surprised that he was silent for 187 minutes. I feel quite certain that Trump was rooting for the insurrectionists, and we now have evidence to that point. I felt a mix of emotions. I was uncertain about the future.

When Republicans initially spoke out about Jan. 6, I was encouraged that this would be the end of Trumpery and the ongoing risk to our country. But that turned out to be wrong. Trump reasserted his grip and power. Above all, I would say that the insurrection is continuing. The Republicans, motivated by the Big Lie and the attempted coup, have now just moved it into the states.

What the Republicans attempted to do in the aftermath of the 2020 election was to attack the rules and the referees, meaning the election officials, as a way of attacking the results. They failed, but they're still doing it. There are hundreds of bills to attack the rules so that they can change the results next time. The Republicans are doing this from coast to coast. The attempted coup has not ended.

What is so compelling about "Trumpery" for the Republicans? For Trump's followers?

They want power at all costs. We need to deal with that. We cannot allow this slow rolling preparation for another coup to go unchecked. The coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents that defeated Trump and the Republicans in 2020 need to step up and do the same thing in 2022.

What is "democracy"? What is the "rule of law"? These concepts are summoned all of the time in conversations about the Age of Trump and this crisis, but they are rarely defined or explained. These definitions are critical.

The legitimacy of our constitutional republic is founded in the choices of the American people. In the United States, it's sometimes said that "the voters choose their leaders." In an autocracy, the leaders make that choice. That is the core difference between American democracy and the kind of American autocracy that Donald Trump is pushing.

Trump's behavior was anti-democratic because he wanted to substitute his own decision to stay in power for the choice that the voters made. The moral legitimacy of our democracy and government stems from the choice of the people. It's really as simple as that. Trump wanted to substitute his own choice for that of the American people and the Constitution.

As for the rule of law, there is a system of rules that we've agreed on, and the rules apply equally to all. Again, no person is above the law. Trump wanted to put himself above those rules. The rules should be the same for everyone. He wanted a special new set of rules for himself. So, that's what the rule of law means. Trump transgressed it thousands of times, but the last one, on Jan. 6, 2021, was the worst.

Did Trumpery impose itself on the Republican Party, or was the party already afflicted with the sickness before Donald Trump? In essence, those values and beliefs were already there.

The seeds were certainly there for a very long time. When Sen. Mitch McConnell was asked at the beginning of the Obama administration, in which I served, "What's your objective?" he said, "To deny Barack Obama a second term." That's a form of Trumpery. He's putting his narrow partisan political interests above the interests of the country.

Every single one of the deadly sins of Trumpery was germinating in the Republican Party before Donald Trump. For example, the disdain for ethics, attacking the rule of law, lies and disinformation. The sheer shamelessness. Pursuing personal political interest and not the public interest. Driving divisions and attacking democracy. The nativism, the populism, the attacks on minorities. We've seen so much of this with the Republicans even before Trump. We've seen so much that's wrong, but it was a minority position that was germinating. It took Trump to really lead Trumpery to dominance in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mar-a-Lago. That's a disaster with one of our two major parties.

What can we do to purge or inoculate America's democratic culture from Trumpery?

We have to empower the people who are pro-democracy to get out there and fight for our democracy, as we did in 2020. The tools are there. We need to have the will. We need to join together. We need to set party aside; democracy should not be a partisan issue. It worked in 2020. I think it can work again in 2022 and beyond.

'Be a little patient': Eric Holder says Merrick Garland will hold January 6th perpetrators accountable

The Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement are in revolutionary mode, aiming to push American society back before the civil rights era, and perhaps into the 19th century. They seek to reverse the struggle to expand democracy and full citizenship — however unevenly or incompletely — to include Black and brown people, women, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized and oppressed groups.

This is part of a much larger strategy by Republicans and their allies to end America's multiracial and pluralistic democracy, based on the misconception that rights and liberties are a zero-sum game, and that democracy should be exclusionary by design. In this worldview, historically marginalized groups must be continually oppressed, or "re-oppressed," to ensure that white "Christian" heterosexuals (and other "real Americans") can enjoy their full rights.

One of the Republican-fascist movement's greatest villains is Barack Obama, the country's first Black president, whose ascendance to power represented a symbolic triumph for multiracial democracy that the right found unacceptable. The very presence of Obama and his family in the White House was understood as an insult and provocation to the core values and beliefs of the Republican Party, the "conservative" movement and the larger white right.

In a sense, they had a point: Obama's presidency represented a diverse and more cosmopolitan America — and an existential threat to the vision of the country and its future embodied in Donald Trump's movement and the current Republican Party.

Eric Holder was attorney general of the United States under President Obama from 2009 to 2015. He was the first African American to hold that office in the country's history, and now serves as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. His new book (with co-author Sam Koppelman) is "Our Unfinished March: The Violent Past and Imperiled Future of the Vote — A History, a Crisis, a Plan."

In this wide-ranging conversation Holder explains his deep worries about American democracy in this moment of crisis. Holder also discusses the events of Jan. 6, 2021, which were a white supremacist attack on multiracial democracy -- as well as on Obama's legacy and the very idea of Black and brown people being in positions of leadership in American society.

Holder also discusses what we can learn from the Black Freedom Struggle for this moment of democracy crisis, and why the American people must organize and remain optimistic in the face of what will be a very long fight. Toward the end of this conversation, Holder explains why he believes that Donald Trump and other high-ranking members of his administration will ultimately be prosecuted by the Department of Justice for their crimes related to Jan. 6. We should have faith, he says, in the judgment and legal ethics of attorney general Merrick Garland, who now holds the job Holder had seven years ago.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

How are you feeling these days? More specifically, given all of the challenges we face in this country, how are you sleeping?

I'm a person who sleeps pretty well at night. I have the capacity to turn things off and get to sleep. That is usually the case. But I have found during the course of the pandemic that getting to sleep is a little more difficult. The pandemic is part of that of course.

I really mean this: Our democracy under attack has had an impact on me. I'll feel tired. I'll lay my head on the bed and say, "Boy, I'm really tired." And then my head starts spinning. I start thinking about, well, what's going on in Wisconsin? What's happening in Texas? What's going on in Georgia? Have we filed the appropriate lawsuits? What is happening with the Supreme Court? So many things.

What I've had to do, which I've never done before, is that I take out an iPad and watch a movie or an HBO series or something, just to stop thinking obsessively about these challenges to our democracy. At some point I just can't stay awake any longer and I go to sleep. The attacks on our democracy have really gotten to me. It really worries me.

What are you doing about those feelings of frustration? Many of us tried to warn the American people about the things that would happen if Donald Trump won the 2016 election. We were ignored, and we are still being ignored about the escalating crisis of democracy. What do we do with that energy?

What you just said is really important. What we must do is transform the frustration, the fear, the concern, into energy to do the required work. It's why I stay as active, as I have been, on all things related to voting. The ultimate relaxant for me is the knowledge that I'm doing all that I can. I am doing what the people who came before me did.

We are facing a very serious crisis. But other people in other times in this country have also faced crises that were even more serious, and the stakes for them were much higher. They potentially had to face losing their lives and their livelihoods. We don't generally face those kinds of personal consequences right now. For example, Medgar Evers, as we talk about in the new book, was carrying a bunch of T-shirts that say, "Jim Crow must go," on the same day that my sister-in-law integrated the University of Alabama. He must have been feeling pretty good that day, and then he was shot in his driveway.

We don't have those kinds of concerns. Our predecessors got through it. They got through their fear, their frustration, and they changed this nation. Especially for Black people, they were fighting for things unseen and fighting for concepts never experienced by them, in the hope that future generations would have opportunities that they didn't have. I owe them a great debt. I owe the future something better than the present. All those things help me and get me through the day.

The struggle never stopped. Once you stop fighting and you believe rights are secure, they will be taken away. Our long freedom struggle continues. Nothing is guaranteed.

That's a constant theme that one sees in this nation's history. We are part of a continuum that began in the 17th century. We're not facing anything that is totally unique. It is certainly different. As I described, the consequences perhaps are not as great on a personal level. But we're part of a continuing struggle. My father's generation that went to war in World War II came back to the United States and faced discrimination. Those Black men were fighting and struggling for democracy on foreign soil and then came back and got mistreated.

My father's personal story is that he was an immigrant from Barbados. He enlisted in the Army in his early 40s. He's in uniform and he's in North Carolina, and he is told to get to the back of a bus. In uniform, in war. He is told to get the back of a bus. He's in Oklahoma, trying to get a hamburger and he's told to go to the back of a lunch stand along with some other Black soldiers.

Well, his son grew up to be attorney general of the United States. There's a marker of progress there. His generation believed in the promise of this country in ways that I think we have to hold onto. My father wasn't a great civil rights leader. He was a good guy, one of the wisest men I've ever known. He didn't finish high school, but he did little things. The way he carried himself. The way he went to meetings and was involved in the community. We have it within ourselves, so-called ordinary people, the capacity to bring about great change.

We need charismatic, eloquent and wonderful leaders, of course. But those leaders need to have foot soldiers. Too often we forget those foot soldiers. We need to raise them up. We need to talk more about those people whose names we might have forgotten.

There's been a lot of change in America. But there are still these demons of racism and white supremacy that have not been exorcized. Your own life journey is an example of the changes America has experienced. But there was and continues to be so much racism, white supremacy and white backlash that is directly related to Barack Obama's presidency, and to Black and brown folks like you being in positions of authority. How do you reconcile this combination of progress and backlash?

I go back to my father and his generation. They loved this country when this country didn't love them back. That has been, in some ways, the history of people of color, and certainly African Americans, in this nation. We have demonstrated a love for this country and a devotion to the ideals of this country and have not always gotten back the kind of respect and love from this country that we deserve, given the seminal role that we played in the literal building of this country. We were asked to fight in wars, which we did, and were then denied the benefits of the sacrifices that we were asked to make and that we willingly gave.

I'm lucky. I'm privileged. I stand on the shoulders of people who sacrificed and gave their lives. Who, on a day to day basis, suffered indignities with a hope to achieve things unseen and in the future. So that people like me and Barack, and so many others obviously, would have opportunities that they never had. I feel really connected to them. I always have.

A white supremacist terrorist just killed 10 Black people in Buffalo. The connections to Dylann Roof and Charleston are obvious. How are you feeling? Do you have any advice for Black Americans about what to do with this pain, with this PTSD?

I am angry. At the same time, I think it is a moment where we need to revisit how generations of people of color before us experienced horrific events — not just in the form of mass atrocities, but also in the form of daily dehumanization. Having to go to the back of the bus. Being forced to take an impossible-to-pass literacy test. Lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan, a domestic terrorist organization, and other forms of state-sanctioned terror. The list goes on. We have made progress from those times because our ancestors knew they deserved better without having seen it for themselves. Instead of disengaging, they responded with engagement. They rejected the status quo. They organized. They protested. They lobbied their government.

Our country has never been perfect. But what makes this country worth fighting for is the fact that the people can improve it over time. We cannot lose sight of that at this moment.

Where do we go after Buffalo? This all feels like a terrible act of repetition, in terms of white supremacist terrorism and other violence against Black and brown people and other minority groups.

First and foremost, we have to call this event what it was: an act of domestic terrorism. Even during the previous administration, the FBI stated that white supremacist domestic terrorism posed the greatest domestic threat, and the FBI has continued to state this is the case today. So we have to equip federal agencies, state governments and local police departments with the tools they need to prevent future attacks. We also need to explore legislation on this issue. Contrary to the previous administration, President Biden was unequivocal in his remarks in Buffalo, and that leadership will help to make progress in the executive branch and elevate this issue in Congress.

It is also incumbent upon the people to stay involved. We must hold anyone who spreads racist conspiracy theories to account. If they hold elected office, we can and should organize to vote them out of office. Social media companies must do more to not allow this kind of speech to be spread and promoted. We will not be able to completely erase hate speech, but we can and must take action to hinder its ability to spread as much as possible.

What were you thinking on Jan. 6 of last year?

I didn't believe it. I had this powerful experience of cognitive dissonance. I'm watching something and my eyes are conveying images to me that my mind is processing, but on some basic level I didn't think that what I was seeing could actually be happening. I've been in and out of that building any number of times. To get confirmed. To get yelled at in hearings with Republicans. To meet with members of Congress to lobby for legislation. I have been there for inaugurations. To see people climbing the walls of Congress, wearing Camp Auschwitz T-shirts, hitting police officers, using pepper spray on law enforcement. It was hard to believe.

But on another level what happened that day was the manifestation of all my fears. There was this reaction to Barack's election. There were things released by the Trump election. And now it all came together on Jan. 6. All these people with these so-called grievances and this sense of mistreatment were there attacking the greatest symbol of our democracy.

Seeing a Confederate flag inside the halls of Congress? All of it was hard to believe. It was unbelievably enlightening yet frightening at the same time. It should be a wake-up call for everybody in this country. There is an illness among us. There is an illness in the body politic of this nation. It's like a cancer. If you leave it untreated, it will metastasize and it will consume us. We've got to take firm steps that begin with holding people accountable. Then we have to look at the country's institutions to make sure that what happened on Jan. 6 doesn't happen again.

As I watched that attack on the Capitol, I kept thinking to myself, "God, they hate Barack Obama that much. They hate Holder that much." I kept telling myself that they hate the reality and the symbolism of Black folks and our success, and the idea of multiracial democracy, so much that they're willing to tear it all down. Did it feel personal? Was your mind operating on that level?

Having been attorney general for six years and been attacked in a variety of ways, your skin does get pretty thick. I'm sure Barack would say the same thing. So yes, on a personal level, I understood what was happening there. But what was more worrisome are the symbols. They were not very subtle. Black people are very familiar with that imagery and what it means.

Gallows? On Jan. 6 they said they wanted to hang Mike Pence. As a Black person, you see a gallows there and a bunch of angry white folks and it brings up images of the "Strange Fruit" that Billie Holiday sang about.

Those Camp Auschwitz T-shirts. That language and imagery and what it represents has a very particular and powerful resonance for Jewish people. But we all know that Black folks would be right next in line with our Jewish brothers and sisters. The Confederate flag? What greater symbol of anti-Black feeling can you have than that?

So much of this was a reaction to the promise of Barack Obama. That reaction was not so much in response to Obama's policies. It was a reaction to the possibility of a true multiracial movement that potentially leads to a multiracial democracy the likes of which we had not seen in the United States since Reconstruction. Obama represented this new, emerging America that in terms of demographics is going to make the nation more brown than it is right now.

Ideologically, Obama also represents where I think the nation is going. The largest voting bloc we have in this country now are young people. There are more young people than baby boomers. Their ideological view, their view of the world, is quite different. That frightens those people who were out there on Jan. 6. America is changing. We can either embrace that change and make this century, the 21st century, another American century or we can let this change divide us, as we are presently doing. Those divisions will have a negative impact not only on the American people here at home, but also a negative impact on our ability to influence things outside our borders. A weakened America is not a good thing for the world.

Why haven't Donald Trump and the other members of his inner circle been prosecuted yet?

Justice means that the people who were responsible for Jan. 6, which includes the events leading up to that day, the ones who actually did the things on the 6th and then those people who were involved after that date, have to be held accountable.

As Merrick Garland said in his speech about Jan. 6, they have to be held responsible at any level. Merrick's a careful guy when it comes to the use of language. The fact that he put in those three words, "at any level," is an indication, at least to me, that they are looking at the entirety of who was involved with and responsible for Jan. 6. Accountability certainly has to be a huge component of justice.

But as we learn in law school, the purpose of the criminal law is not only to hold people accountable, it is to deter future similar conduct. I describe myself as an institutionalist. I'm reluctant to think about prosecuting people from a prior administration, which would potentially include a former president. It's divisive. But you have to hold people accountable. You have to speak to the future and say, if you even think about doing something like this, these are the consequences. You potentially will lose your liberty. You'll go to jail. Your reputation will be stained, and all the other negative consequences. We have to deter such future conduct.

The fact that Meadows' referral from Congress for contempt has not been dealt with, that's a tell. That's an indication that there's stuff going on, that they don't want to fool around with Meadows on contempt charges, out of concern of what that might do to what they're actively investigating him for. I would say, give them a little bit of time and we'll see what they do. But I am actually pretty confident that the DOJ will hold a whole bunch of high-level people accountable to deter people from doing things like this in the future.

I am of the school of thought that there is no way in hell that Donald Trump and his inner circle are going to jail.

You don't talk about ongoing investigations. You can't talk about the handling or the use of a grand jury. There is a whole range of things that can be going on underneath the surface. As I said, I'd say just be a little patient. Let the Jan. 6 [committee] hearings happen. After those hearings have occurred, then I think it's time to start looking for action from DOJ.

How can the average American, everyday people, get involved in saving this country's democracy? What should people be doing?

People need to have a sense of history. They need to get involved in ways that our current heroes and heroines are. For example, there is a woman named Love Caesar at North Carolina A&T. We talk about her in the new book. She was upset about the fact that North Carolina A&T was gerrymandered. They drew a line right down the middle of the campus. She got the campus together and ultimately pushed back against that North Carolina gerrymander successfully.

A man named Chris Hollins in Texas brought more people to vote in Harris County — in the middle of the pandemic, mind you — than had ever voted before in a presidential election. They are examples of how we as individuals, so-called ordinary citizens, can have an impact on the system. It doesn't mean it has to be political. There are a host of ways, big and small, in which we can improve the civic life of this country.

How do you maintain so much optimism in the fact of the crises and challenges we are facing?

If you look at the history of the United States and you reflect on from where we have come from and where we are, you understand that we have dealt with tough issues in the past and surmounted those challenges. People before me ended a system of American apartheid. We ripped down that system. America is at its best when it confronts the problems that bedevil it. We still have that capacity within ourselves.

There has been a long arc of progress in this country. It's not always a consistent arc, but overall it is an arc of progress, of involvement, of advancement. That is what I hold onto. My optimism propels me to the work. Pessimism would keep me in a sedentary state, and I'm by nature an active guy. I'm looking for solutions. I draw strength and optimism from those who came before me. I feel an obligation to them. If they sacrificed and they gave their lives, who am I not to be optimistic and keep doing the work in the present?

The fall of Roe v. Wade will only embolden the fascists: How will America respond?

We warned the American people that electing Donald Trump would be a disaster. Unfortunately, too many Americans — from the political and media classes to everyday people — chose to ignore those warnings.

Our warnings were specific: Trump and his fake populist movement are a form of poison in the American body politic. Today's Republican Party and the larger "conservative" movement do not believe in democracy. They are authoritarians, trying to impose an apartheid Christian fascist plutocratic state on the American people.

If Trump were elected president, we warned, he would set into motion a series of events that would create an existential crisis for American democracy and society. He was mentally unwell, perhaps sociopathic. The civil rights and human rights of Black and brown people — and other vulnerable and marginalized groups — would be imperiled. Women's reproductive rights and freedoms, including the right to abortion enshrined in the Roe v. Wade decision, would be taken away.

All those predictions, and many others, have come true. At first, those of us who sounded the alarm about the coming American nightmare were called crazy, hyperbolic, reactionary or irrational. We were "haters," desperate for attention, who suffered from "Trump derangement syndrome."

As we now know from the draft Supreme Court opinion recently published by Politico, the end of Roe v. Wade is upon us, and abortion rights as a matter of constitutional law will no longer exist in the United States. The fall of Roe is a huge step forward in the much larger attack on human and civil rights in America by the Republican fascists, the "conservative" movement and the larger white right. Many Americans now find themselves trapped in the very nightmare whose existence they spent years denying.

Sometimes the ground moves beneath our feet. That is true for both societies and individuals. The challenge then becomes how to reorient ourselves

How did well-intentioned people in America's political class, and ordinary citizens who believe in democracy, get this so wrong? How did they so greatly underestimate the danger of Trumpism?

"Normalcy bias," meaning the belief that because things have operated in a certain way for as long as many people can remember, explains much of this error. Intellectual laziness and a culture of distraction played a big role as well. Trumpism, like other forms of fascism, is nothing new. The answers (and the likely future) were visible for all who chose to look for them.

The American people are also exhausted from a pandemic that has now killed more than one million people in this country alone. A decades-long attack on the American Dream and what remains of social democracy has also left many of us in a state of precarity, perpetual vulnerability and learned helplessness. People who are mired in negativity and feelings of despair can easily succumb to cynicism, distrust, religious extremism, conspiratorial thinking, anti-intellectualism and other unhealthy states of mind. These are the same emotions, thinking, and behaviors that nurture fascism and other forms of authoritarianism.

There is also the power of American myth, and our belief that we are an an "exceptional" nation, the "greatest" on Earth. According to that mythology, the American people are inherently good, and fascism and authoritarianism are problems that by definition can only exist elsewhere. Even in the wake of the Trump presidency, many Americans are still in denial about the fact that tens of millions of their fellow (white) citizens reject multiracial democracy and want to replace it with outright fascism or some other form of racial authoritarianism.

What about America's political elites? What about the "thought leaders" in the news media and the commentariat, who are paid to be expert interpreters of political events? How did they fail to see this nightmare emerging?

Such people have a deep and abiding belief in "the system." To imagine that "the system" is failing is to call into question their own identities and futures relative to it. Few people want to reckon with their own obsolescence. At an even deeper level, many people who are part of that system reflexively resist confronting their own role in creating and worsening this disaster.

A person who is associated with the "system" or the "establishment" is also very likely a person privileged by that system, whether because of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, wealth and income, residency status, lack of disability or something else. So for many members of the media and political elite, it is not possible to conceive of this American nightmare in general, or the end of Roe in particular, as something that is real, possible, and personal. Those people find themselves in an altered world yet are still in denial about it. The cognitive dissonance borders on being pathological.

Author and Daily Beast writer Wajahat Ali recently described this state of denial on Twitter:

All of us — who were denounced as reactionary and alarmist by those paid incredible sums of money to be analysts and influencers — were right. That's the problem with the DC/NYC circle — it's a small, closed, often homogeneous group who only hang out with each other.

Cultural historian and media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan offered a similar intervention, writing: "I can't believe that there are people who have lived through the past six years in America who still believe we operate according to the democratic norms of the late 20th century. The rest of us are dealing with this full-on assault in the real world."

At Mother Jones, Monika Bauerlein shared these insights about the power of denial among America's media class, writing that Republicans were pursuing "minority rule" and that "sugarcoating" that fact with polite words helps no one:

In fact, there's an argument that sugarcoating the abortion debate is part of what got us here. As the journalist Farai Chideya, who hosts the podcast Our Body Politic, wrote on Twitter, "Too many times I've been in newsrooms where a post-Roe and post-Voting Rights Act future was dismissed summarily as a possibility. So we as a profession created a dangerous filter bubble, dismissing individuals and groups as fringe when they were the tip of the spear."

In a democracy, the fourth estate is supposed to hold the powerful accountable in order to help the public make informed political decisions. In this context, the fourth estate are the harbor masters of democracy, helping to navigate ships through dangerous waters. But in the dark and turbulent waters of the Trump era, the harbor masters have become confused. They keep driving vessels onto the rocks. The wrecks are piling up, but the harbor masters insist their maps must be correct.

We have seen this repeatedly throughout the Age of Trump and beyond: The country's leading publications will shine a bright light on the Republican plot against democracy — but then, the next day or sometimes later on the same day, will pivot back to the very same both-sides coverage and horserace journalism that led to America's democracy crisis in the first place.

It is no wonder, then, that the American people are confused, angry and disoriented. The voices who are supposed to make complicated matters of politics and society clearer and more legible have utterly failed to fulfill their responsibility.

The imminent end of Roe v. Wade will pose a great test for American democracy. Many Americans will certainly participate in marches and other protests when the Republican-controlled Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, very likely next month. Civil society organizations are mobilizing their members and the larger public. The Democrats hope to use outrage over the Republican assault on reproductive rights and freedoms to mobilize their voters for the midterms and beyond. Organizations across the country are enacting plans to ensure that women and girls who choose to terminate their pregnancies can do so.

Inevitably, this mobilization for women's rights and freedoms will be met by a powerful counter-mobilization from the right-wing. Extreme violence by the latter is a definite possibility.

This plan has one huge problem: Democratic mobilization is all well and good, but today's Republicans and "conservatives", and the larger white right do not believe in democracy and are actively seeking to destroy it. The nullification of Roe v. Wade is a stark example of the tyranny of the minority: The Supreme Court's decision is widely unpopular and contrary to the common good. It also violates fundamental human rights and liberties and damages democracy.

In a functioning democracy, public opinion is supposed to serve as a barometer and guide for elected officials and their policymaking. Marches, mobilization and social movements are forms of pressure on elected officials and other elites. But the Republican-fascist movement and other "conservatives" do not care about that. They are creating a political system that allows them to advance their agenda without being limited or otherwise restrained by public pressure or democratic will.

To wit. The reversal of Roe v. Wade is the work of two anti-majoritarian and anti-democratic political institutions, the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court. To make matters even clearer, five of the nine current Supreme Court justices were nominated by Republican presidents who did not win the popular vote.

Three of those justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were chosen by Donald Trump. He lost the popular vote twice, was impeached twice, attempted a coup, and engaged in a long list of high crimes against American democracy and society. In practice, Trump is also a white supremacist, a fascist demagogue, and a political cult leader.

As for the Senate, it disproportionately empowers smaller, largely rural "red" states over more populous, metropolitan "blue" states, where the vast majority of Americans live. The Republicans have also used the Senate filibuster to prevent the Democrats from passing major legislation, including popular measures to protect reproductive rights, voting rights, and democracy in general.

To insulate themselves from public outrage about Roe v. Wade (and other unpopular policies) the Republicans use gerrymandering, vote rigging, voter intimidation, vote theft and other anti-democratic measures to restrict the voting rights of Black and brown Americans and other key Democratic constituencies.

Writing at Jacobin, Ben Beckett connects the impending Roe v. Wade decision to the larger Republican-fascist project, describing the current Supreme Court as the right's "most powerful weapon" in establishing rule "against the people":

While the Supreme Court is especially insulated from democracy and accountability, this authoritarian impulse has always been at the core of conservatism, and the Right has always had a tenuous relationship to democracy. Historically, it has only acceded to democratic demands kicking and screaming, and it has consistently tried to roll back democratic practices and revert power to unaccountable elites. ...
While the desire to overturn Roe v. Wade long precedes Donald Trump's presidency, Alito's decision is best understood in the context of the broader counter-democratic movement that has been picking up steam for the past seven years….
There is no reason to think this will get any better, or to expect another outcome when it comes to other important issues. ... There is a special sense of helplessness here. Anyone who pays even a little bit of attention to politics knows exactly what will happen, and knows that no one will stop it. The justices will surely continue to find reasons to strike down popular legislation and regulations that were enacted by "the people and their elected representatives," just as surely as they will find reasons to return questions of individual liberty, voting rights, and freedom of assembly and expression to state governments dominated by conservative extremists sure to restrict them. ... It's all just motivated reasoning for raw power: they're all for democracy, as long as they can first guarantee that they'll win.

In a new essay for the New Republic, Katherine Stewart describes the impending reversal of Roe as "the direct consequence of the pact between the Republican Party and America's religious nationalists":

Tellingly, the authoritarian origins of the decision are written into the draft opinion itself, which ... will serve as a model and platform for advancing a wider assault on individual rights and American democracy for the benefit of a privileged few. Women of childbearing age are among the first victims of the authoritarian movement that brought us a radicalized Supreme Court. They won't be the last….
Depriving individuals of their rights is only half of the work of a court bent on paving the way for a Christian nationalist regime. The other half consists in dispensing privileges to favored groups….
Anyone who cares about the rights of individuals against tyranny should fight the court's apparent decision on abortion rights. But unless we make the fight about the takeover of the court itself — and unless it brings about the changes that this corrupted institution requires—the existential threat to American democracy will persist.

Political scientists and other researchers have shown that Congress is largely unresponsive to the policy demands of working class and poor people and instead takes its directives from the plutocrat class and large corporations. That is another important aspect of the new America Republicans and "conservatives" are trying to create: a fake democracy where it will be virtually impossible to defeat Republicans by electoral means.

Does that mean the American people should surrender to the fascists, or hunker down and wait out the storm? Of course not. They must go beyond thinking of democracy as a matter of voting every few years, donating to causes or candidates, attending protests or marches once or twice year, writing letters to elected official or "liking" and "sharing" a news item, petition or political meme online.

Democracy is much more than those things. To defeat neofascism, the American people must come to understand democracy as a vocation and cultural practice. That means participating in local civic organizations and creating social change on an intimate, personal, community-based level.

This moment also demands a commitment to long-term struggle: winning back and protecting reproductive rights, voting rights and other essential aspects of democracy and freedom may well be a decades-long battle. Defeating the Republican-fascists and the larger white right will also require learning the lessons of the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement and other freedom struggles. Corporeal politics, including strikes, sustained protests, boycotts and other forms of civil disobedience, potentially on an unprecedented scale, may well be required to win back American democracy.

This American nightmare is not going away anytime soon. The Republican-fascist movement will only become more aggressive with the end of Roe v. Wade. It is winning, and can sense larger victories ahead.

This test of democracy will not be a matter of one finite event, one year or one political campaign. Do the American people have the courage and fortitude for the long fight? Or will they simply convince themselves that this must be the new normal and therefore acceptable? America's future depends on the answer to those questions.

Democrats 'engaging in willful self-sabotage' and 'dangerous stupidity' if they 'chicken out' on Donald Trump

In America, there is one set of rules, laws and justice for rich white men and another set for everyone else. Donald Trump is living proof of that fact. Despite overwhelming public evidence of his high crimes, it appears likely that the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, will not recommend to the Department of Justice that Trump should face criminal charges. This abdication of responsibility — to speak plainly, this act of cowardice — in the name of politics and appearances is a horrible mistake.

Indeed, it appears increasingly likely that there will be few if any negative consequences for Trump and his fellow coup plotters for their numerous crimes. In total, Jan. 6 may be one of the greatest crimes in American history and also one of the least punished, offering another example of how American democracy is dying, a little bit at a time.

Last Sunday, The New York Times reported that the leaders of the House committee "have grown divided" over the question of whether to make a criminal referral regarding Trump to the Justice Department, "even though they have concluded that they have enough evidence to do so." Some committee members are reportedly "questioning whether there is any need to make a referral," partly in hopes that Attorney General Merrick Garland has his own investigation underway, and partly out of reluctance "to saddle a criminal case with further partisan baggage" at a moment when Trump is openly flirting with another presidential campaign.

This shift in strategy, the Times reports is related to the ruling two weeks ago by a federal judge in California who found that it was "more likely than not" that Trump and his legal adviser, John Eastman, had both committed federal crimes:

The ruling led some committee and staff members to argue that even though they felt they had amassed enough evidence to justify calling for a prosecution, the judge's decision would carry far greater weight with Mr. Garland than any referral letter they could write, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.
The members and aides who were reluctant to support a referral contended that making one would create the appearance that Mr. Garland was investigating Mr. Trump at the behest of a Democratic Congress and that if the committee could avoid that perception it should, the people said.

It's certainly true that the House Jan. 6 committee is controlled by the Democrats, since only two renegade Republicans agreed to take part. But if its leaders decline to refer Trump to the Department of Justice for prosecution, they will demonstrate once again that they lack the most basic understanding of how the Republican Party, and the larger neofascist movement surrounding it, pose an existential threat to the future of the United States.

It is not just that today's Democratic Party is "bad at politics," although that's true enough. The deeper truth is even worse: The Democrats are engaging in willful self-sabotage.

The examples are many. Republicans overwhelmingly view Democrats as their enemies, yet Democratic leaders continue to view Republicans as possible or at least potential partners in good government. The Democratic Party's leaders behave as though they truly believe that the Republicans' embrace of fascism and authoritarianism is just a phase or passing flirtation that will soon fade.

Such a pretense is beyond naïve. In a moment of existential democracy crisis, it is actually dangerous stupidity.

Today's Republican Party and the larger white right have abandoned normal politics with its expectations of compromise, respect for existing democratic norms and institutions, and a shared investment in protecting the country's democratic culture. They have instead become a reactionary revolutionary party, embracing political paralysis and destruction. As the entire nation should have learned on Jan. 6, Republicans and the white right view political violence and terrorism as a legitimate means to achieve their goals. To this point, the Democrats have offered no effective response.

Republicans no longer believe that the Democrats (or liberals, progressives or the "left") should have any legitimacy, power, authority or social standing. Their ultimate goal is to create a one-party state along the lines of Hungary, Turkey or Russia, governed by what political scientists describe as a system of "competitive authoritarianism."

Republican leaders have already signaled that if and when they take control of the House of Representatives after the 2022 midterms they are likely to impeach Joe Biden, follow through on their witch-hunt obsessions with his son Hunter, launch innumerable investigations of the Democrats for imaginary crimes and corruption, continue to advance Trump's Big Lie and more generally do everything possible to stop the Democrats from passing any legislation or pursuing any policy reforms. They will almost certainly also do whatever they can to overturn existing legislation, however popular those policies may be, in pursuit of their revolutionary goal to remake American society in their own evil image.

Disbanding the Jan. 6 House select committee will almost literally be Republicans' first priority, and they may well replace it with some McCarthy-style kangaroo court designed to punish those who stood up to Donald Trump's incipient fascist regime. Yet in the face of all this, Democratic leaders and the Jan. 6 committee remain concerned, first and foremost, about political optics, even as their Republican "colleagues" continue to give aid and comfort to Trump's followers and the larger neofascist movement.

At the New Republic, Michael Tomasky explores the logic behind the concerns that a criminal referral of Trump might "backfire":

Democrats really have to stop worrying about things backfiring and just do them. Of course it may backfire. Lots of things may backfire. That isn't a reason not to do them.
Do Republicans worry about things backfiring? Hardly ever that I can see. They just do them. Eighty jillion Benghazi hearings. Voting, as nearly 150 of them did, to deny Joe Biden the presidency. Pushing these blatantly undemocratic voter-suppression laws. They never worry about backfiring. The irony is that sometimes their zealotry does backfire on Republicans. The impeachment of Bill Clinton backfired on Newt Gingrich such that he lost his job over it. But they just keep on doing outrageous things, and their winning percentage, tragically, is pretty good.
In other words: The backfiring worry is very overstated in a hyper-polarized age. Of course a formal referral will infuriate Trumpists. And it will give Trump a little fodder to complain about a partisan 'witch hunt.' But Democrats can counter that the committee has two Republicans. Liberals will nod, conservatives will be enraged, and most voters in the middle will shrug. It's a relatively minor thing, this referral. There's no harm in doing it.

In an essay for MSNBC, Charles Sykes warns that the select committee and the Justice Department "both seem to be caught in a cycle of hand-wringing":

They worry about the 'taint' of a referral and agonize over fears that Trump and the GOP will discredit any investigation as a partisan witch hunt.
But here's a reality check: No matter what they do, no matter how cautiously they act, Trump will react with bad faith and demagoguery.
The Justice Department could hire an avatar of respectability and integrity to handle the prosecution (see: Robert Mueller) — and it wouldn't matter. Whatever it does, Trump will let loose the dogs of disinformation, deceit and obstruction.
Knowing it can't control the reaction, maybe the select committee should just do the right thing — and finally, finally end the cycle of timidity, self-deterrence and buck-passing.

Public opinion polls show that an increasingly large percentage of Americans have lost interest in the events of Jan. 6. and want the entire matter to be thrown down the memory hole. A great deal of this sentiment results from the fact that many leading Democrats and pundits repeatedly say that Trump and the Republicans are a threat to American democracy, yet in real-world terms do not act as if that really matters. Why should the American people care that Trump and his cabal attempted to overthrow democracy if the Democrats are continuing with business as usual?

In their losing war against the Republicans, the "conservative" movement and the larger white right, the Democrats have been trading space for time since at least Barack Obama's presidency. By comparison, the Republicans are constantly on the attack, spreading the "critical race theory" moral panic, circulating the QAnon conspiracy theory, weaponizing anti-LGBTQ bigotry or terrorizing white parents with lies that Democrats are sexual predators who are "grooming" children. Republicans have all the momentum on their side and are using it to shape the political battlefield such that Democrats are forced to react from a position of weakness.

As documented by historian Nancy MacLean and other experts, and contrary to what some observers would like to believe, Republicans are not simply improvising their culture-war tactics. When viewed in the aggregate, these attacks serve a highly refined strategy. Democrats also seem to think that somehow the Republican-fascists and their allies will become tired, or will have an epiphany that their cause is immoral, irrational or misguided.

As is their habit, the Democrats and too many liberals are projecting their own reasoning and motivations onto their enemies. This too is a classic mistake in politics or war.

The Republican Party and the neofascist movement are engaged, energized and willing to fight. In comparison, most Democrats — whether "centrists," mainstream liberals or left-progressives — appear exhausted, frustrated and increasingly demobilized.

If the House select committee decides not to issue a criminal referral to the Department of Justice for Trump's crimes, that marks another Democratic Party surrender in the battle to protect American democracy. The Republican-fascists and their allies have no respect for the supposed rules of political combat in a democracy. Moreover, they have consistently demonstrated that they will offer no quarter or compassion to their opposition. They view the Democrats' talk about bipartisanship, compromise, consensus and democratic norms with contempt, as a form of weakness not worthy of respect.

In the end, the Democratic Party and its leaders must approach this political battle not as "normal" politics but as a life-or-death struggle for the future of American democracy and society. Victory in war is all too often fundamentally determined by the human factors: morale, discipline, dedication, belief in the cause and motivation. By those criteria, the Democrats are losing badly. Is it too late for them to turn the tide?

'Trump knew exactly what was going on': Inside the thinking of the House Jan. 6 committee

The House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, was convened more than a year ago. Between the work of that committee, the FBI, various criminal and civil investigations, media interviews, books and other reporting, a great deal of information is now known about what happened that day and how.

Basic facts suggest that Donald Trump, his inner circle, senior members of the Republican Party and various other right-wing operatives worked together as part of a plan to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump in power, in defiance of the popular will of the American people and in violation of the law.

As reported last Friday by CNN, this plot to keep Trump in power began months before that day in January. Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Nov. 5, 2020 — two days after the presidential election, which was still officially undecided — "We have operational control Total leverage.…Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now."

Here are further details from CNN's report:

Immediately before his text to Meadows describing multiple paths for challenging the election, Trump Jr. texted Meadows the following: "This is what we need to do please read it and please get it to everyone that needs to see it because I'm not sure we're doing it."

The November 5 text message outlines a strategy that is nearly identical to what allies of the former President attempted to carry out in the months that followed. Trump Jr. makes specific reference to filing lawsuits and advocating recounts to prevent certain swing states from certifying their results, as well as having a handful of Republican state houses put forward slates of fake "Trump electors."…

Trump Jr. also texts Meadows that Congress could intervene on January 6 and overturn the will of voters if, for some reason, they were unable to secure enough electoral votes to tip the outcome in Trump's favor using the state-based strategy.

That option, according to Trump Jr.'s text, involves a scenario where neither Biden nor Trump have enough electoral votes to be declared a winner, prompting the House of Representatives to vote by state party delegation, with each state getting one vote.

"Republicans control 28 states Democrats 22 states," Trump Jr. texts. "Once again Trump wins."
"We either have a vote WE control and WE win OR it gets kicked to Congress 6 January 2021," he texts Meadows.
Trump Jr. ends his November 5 text by calling for a litany of personnel moves to solidify his father's control over the government by putting loyalists in key jobs and initiate investigations into the Biden family.

The attack on the Capitol by thousands of Trump's followers on Jan. 6, 2021, was not a spontaneous or random event. We now know from Department of Justice filings and other evidence — and what may be the most documented crime scene in American history — that the attack was wholly predictable if not premeditated, and that the goal of Trump's followers, which included various right-wing paramilitary groups, was to stop the certification of the election in Joe Biden's favor. In total, the Capitol assault was an integral part of the plot to keep Trump in power.

At this point in the House select committee's investigation into the events of Jan. 6, the questions are not focused on "unknown unknowns." Instead, the focus is clear: To paraphrase a famous line from the Watergate investigation of the 1970s, what did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?

Once that question is finally answered, a larger and more important one will need to be resolved if American democracy is to survive neofascism, the Trump regime and the lawlessness of the current Republican Party. That question is whether there is any room for justice in America, under the conditions we now face. Will Donald Trump and the other members of the coup cabal be criminally indicted and then face prosecution for their evident crimes against American democracy and the rule of law?

To gain some insight into that question, I recently spoke with Hugo Lowell, congressional reporter for the Guardian, who has been closely following the House select committee's investigation. In this conversation, Lowell provides an overview of the committee's many months of work and what its members appear to have concluded to this point.

He also shares what he sees as the consensus of the available facts about the events of Jan. 6, and says it is increasingly clear that Trump knew about the plot to keep him in power and was an integral part of it.

Lowell also offers details about the logic behind the House committee's decision not to hold televised hearings (so far), and why the committee is unlikely to subpoena congressional Republicans who may have been involved in the events of Jan. 6. Toward the end of this conversation, Lowell shares his worries that however damning the conclusions reached by the Jan. 6 committee may be about Trump's coup attempt, it ultimately may not matter in terms of shaping American public opinion about that day's events.

What is the tone of the committee? What does it feel like to be there monitoring these developments?

It feels like you are on the edge of history, and I don't say that lightly. It feels like that because, especially in the last couple of weeks, you can tell that there's an urgency in the air. I believe that the committee knows that time is not on their side, and they now have had about eight months of solid investigative work behind them. They know a great deal about the Jan. 6 attack, the events that led up to it, and the genesis of the events. They're really getting towards the end now.

When you talk to members of the committee and people on the staff, it feels like they are getting close to the end. There is an energy to the way that the investigation is being described now that was not there when it began. The dots are starting to be connected now. It feels palpable, especially when you're around the members and you're around the actual work that's being done.

What was the logic behind the decision not to hold televised hearings, at least to this point? That seems like a huge missed opportunity.

The public hearings are likely going to happen in May. The crux of the committee's decision-making is that the investigation has never been a made-for-TV process. The investigation is really complicated. There are about half a dozen teams and they are separated by specialty. They're looking at different things. The teams are working separately but also together when needed. Untangling all of the events from the November election through to Jan. 6 and past that day is very complicated. In my opinion, the approach taken by the committee to make sense of all this is probably the smartest way they could have done it. Ultimately, there are so many moving parts, and it wasn't the kind of investigation that was suited to daily television or having people testify in open hearings.

Much of how the Jan. 6 committee's report is going to get put together is by threading together the different pieces of evidence, what the investigation has revealed and how it all comes together. What one of my sources has indicated to me is that the committee and staff have been working really hard. They work from 8 in the morning through to midnight some nights. It just hasn't been the kind of investigation that is suited to constant public testimony and hearings. But I think that phase is coming, and in that phase they're going to show how all the pieces link together.

What is the overall narrative so far in terms of the investigation? If you were to present this for television, what would the broad strokes of the story be?

I would highlight two aspects. The evidence so far points to the fact that Donald Trump knew and oversaw what happened on Jan. 6. Trump knew in advance about these different elements that came together to form both the political element of his plan, which was to have Pence throw the election, and the violence that took place on Jan. 6. They haven't got all the evidence yet.

The reason why the American people should care about the events of Jan. 6 is because it was systematic, it was all encompassing and it increasingly feels like a corruption of the entire federal government. Donald Trump laid the groundwork for that to happen over his four years in office, and that should serve as a warning both to the American people and for democracy at large.

What are the remaining unknowns in this investigation?

There are still questions about the plan that Peter Navarro, the former Trump adviser, referred to as the "Green Bay Sweep." Where did this plan originate? When did it start? Who came up with it? These are key questions if we want to understand how Jan. 6 and that plan came together. The Green Bay Sweep was a plan that involved having Pence stop or delay the certification on Jan. 6, which would have thrown the country into a constitutional crisis. There is no doubt about that outcome. If that plan had come to pass, there probably would have been civil disorder across the country. The ramifications of the Green Bay Sweep are that huge.

There are counter-narratives being offered in some circles that 1) the events of Jan. 6 were not really a coup because there were no guns involved and 2) that this was a "mob" and not coordinated. Based on the hearings and the evidence, what is your response to such claims?

There are Justice Department indictments for malicious conspiracy in part because these militia groups brought weapons with them to Washington, D.C., with the intent to use them. The DOJ would not be moving ahead with those indictments if there was not overwhelming evidence. Moreover, the Capitol police found pipe bombs on the campus on Jan. 6. Capitol police and other law enforcement also found additional weapons.

We know for a fact that there were weapons on Jan. 6. We know some of the Capitol rioters had weapons on them, including guns. In fact, we know this because one of the rioters dropped his gun on the floor and reached down to pick it up again. That was captured by the security cameras. The idea that the events of Jan. 6 were just a bunch of hooligans who came with baseballs bats or something is nonsense.

As to the claim that Jan. 6 was just a whole bunch of lone actors and these events were uncoordinated, the committee increasingly has evidence to disprove that. The committee is not at a point yet where it can overwhelmingly prove a conspiracy. They may never get to that point. However, the way that the events of Jan. 6 unfolded and the communications that took place between the militia groups and the Willard Hotel suggest that these happenings were not spontaneous.

What do we know about the actual right-wing paramilitaries, and in particular the group who appeared to be highly organized and came with zip ties to "arrest" members of Congress?

The Department of Justice indictments reveal that the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys went to the Capitol with a plan. Even if you do not believe what the DOJ is saying for whatever reason, then the way those men were operating — and in fact some of the people on those teams were ex-military — shows that they knew what they were doing on Jan. 6.

Why is the committee not calling Mike Pence to testify?

Much of this comes down to the political realities of the Jan. 6 committee. This investigation is not happening in a vacuum. There are political considerations they have to take into account. What would it mean to subpoena Republican members of Congress? Or a former vice president?

For several weeks the committee has been trying to decide what to do about Mike Pence. They want Pence to come in. They've made that clear to his lawyers, and they've made that clear to his aides. If Pence is not willing to testify, the only other option left is to subpoena him. I do not believe the committee thinks it's worth taking that step. They already have a lot of evidence from Pence's aides, whether that's Greg Jacob or Keith Kellogg, about what went down that day.

The only thing they can't get without talking to Pence are his own conversations with Trump. But I think the committee has gotten to the point now where they don't need the actual substance or the word-by-word play of all those conversations. The committee knows the general summary, because the aides know to a large degree what was being said.

For the committee's purposes, it sounds like that is going to be sufficient. What the committee does not want is the inevitable political circus that comes with subpoenaing a former vice president. And of course Trump would characterize that as a political witch hunt, and it would indeed become a circus. The Jan. 6 committee has really tried to avoid that outcome from the very beginning, because it would undercut the legitimacy of what they are doing.

Why is the committee not making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice? These are exceptional circumstances and demand such a response.

The committee has not taken a formal decision on what to do yet. In fact, they are months from making that decision. In my opinion, it is premature to conclude that the committee is definitely not going to do criminal referrals. There are several open questions before the committee, of which this is one. I think if they have information that warrants a criminal referral, they will definitely do it. The chairman has been quite clear about that.

How is the judge's decision in California that Donald Trump more likely than not committed crimes in connection with the events of Jan. 6 impacting the committee's work and energy?

That decision has been one of the biggest boosts to the investigation to date. It helps the committee get witnesses to come in to talk and it enforces other decisions. The judge's decision also really helped the committee to push back against lawsuits from those individuals who did not their records turned over to the committee. That ruling in and of itself was a victory for the committee.

Another narrative about Jan. 6 is that these events were really not that serious because Donald Trump is a hapless idiot who didn't really know what was happening, and that these concerns about a coup or conspiracy are much exaggerated because of that. What do we actually know?

Trump knew exactly what was going on. In the book "Peril," it was reported that Trump called Bannon the night before the insurrection. I reported separately for The Guardian that Trump, that same night, also called the lawyers at the Willard Hotel and Rudy Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, and had separate conversations with them. We know that these are separate conversations because Giuliani made such a big deal about only having lawyers on legal calls to protect attorney-client privilege. We know that Trump was in direct contact with the Willard Hotel. I know the general substance of that call with the lawyers, which was that we need to find a way to stop the certification from taking place the following day.

That came about because Mike Pence had already communicated to Trump the night before the Capitol attack that he wasn't going to play ball. He wasn't going to follow through with Eastman's plan to effectively either throw the election to the House under the 12th Amendment, or unilaterally declare votes for Biden invalid and decertify the results of a certain state by himself.

Because Pence had already communicated that to Trump the night before, Trump then goes and calls up the Willard, which is where all the action was. Donald Trump knew exactly who to call up to complain. He knew exactly who to call to say, "What are we going to do next? What is our fallback plan?" So the idea that Trump had no idea what was going on, it's frankly nonsense.

Where are we with the phone log story and the missing seven hours?

We are closer to establishing where those phone call records went than we were when the records were first released. Those seven hours are the most crucial time. It is quite interesting: The gap in the presidential call logs start when Donald Trump leaves the president's residence in the morning and goes to the Oval Office. The calls resume again when he returns to the residence.

I believe we can see those presidential call logs from Jan. 6 as reflecting the calls he made in the residence. We don't know what Trump was doing and what his actions were in those seven hours as the Capitol was being overrun, the most crucial time. We know that he made several calls in that period that are not reflected on the call log. We know that he called Kevin McCarthy. We know he called Sen. Mike Lee by mistake, when trying to get to Sen. Tommy Tuberville. The call to Mike Lee was done on a White House number.

It is a central question as to what was taking place on Jan. 6, whether the Trump administration had bad intent and deliberately tried to hide those records, or whether they were just poor record keepers. But either way, that gap in the phone logs increasingly appears to be a crucial part of this puzzle.

Will Republican members of Congress who may have been involved in the Jan. 6 events be called to testify before the committee?

I reported back in January that the select committee was reluctant to subpoena Republican members of Congress — for the same reason, incidentally, that former Congressman Trey Gowdy didn't want to subpoena Democrats when he led the Benghazi committee. The reality is that Congress is hyper-partisan. Everything's political. The committee seems to think if it starts subpoenaing Republican members of Congress there will be intense blowback in the next Congress, particularly if the Democrats lose the majority.

Republicans are already talking about impeaching Biden. They're already talking about launching investigations into Hunter Biden. It's going to be Republican investigation central into the Biden administration. One might argue that the Republicans are going to do all these investigations anyway. But I think the committee doesn't want to provoke it any more than it has to. Therefore, if the committee can learn about what really happened on Jan. 6 through other means than calling Republican members of Congress to testify, they don't want to have to go there.

I do get the sense that if they feel like they have no other choice, they will take that route. But for the moment, at least, there does not seem to be much enthusiasm to subpoena Republican members of Congress.

A basic question: How do we explain to the American people whether this was a coup or not? How is the Jan. 6 committee approaching this question? Is there a possibility it was somehow something else?

If you ask Rep. Jamie Raskin, a committee member, what happened on Jan. 6 was a "self-coup." This was the existing government of the United States trying to take down, in many respects, the existing government of the United States, in order to make themselves the next government of the United States. I agree with Raskin's definition. These events were internal White House political operatives going out of their way to return Donald Trump to the presidency, using unlawful means that connected to both a) a political scheme, and b) violence.

We like to get caught up in definitions. We like to talk about whether this was a coup or not — what everyone has to remember is that Trump lost the election. Trump wanted to return to office at any cost. If it meant the end of democracy, it meant the end of democracy. That's small change to Trump. He doesn't care. If Trump got back into the Oval Office through a successful coup, even if it meant the end of American democracy, he would not have cared. That is the main takeaway here.

It has been reported that the Oath Keepers had stockpiled weapons at a hotel near the Capitol and were preparing for a days-long battle. Some members of these right-wing groups were apparently under the impression that they would not be punished. Where are we with that story?

There are two parallel investigations happening at the same time. There is a congressional investigation through the Jan. 6 committee, and there is also the investigation that encompasses the FBI and Department of Justice. They are sometimes uncovering information that the other investigation is not. I am focused on the Jan. 6 committee. I have seen that the FBI has made these allegations in the court filings.

I have no reason to believe it's not true. I don't personally have reporting on those matters, but I do believe that it speaks to the fact that these events were coordinated. Clearly one does not simply believe that one is going to get pardoned or somehow let off the hook after staging a quick reaction force across the river from the nation's capital — what they were calling "1776," as in another American revolution — to overthrow the seat of American government to return their preferred candidate to office even though he lost.

It just speaks to the coordination. These filings speak to intent as well. There was an intent on Jan. 6 to have some type of coordinated attack. You don't wake up in the morning and think, "Oh, I'm just going to carry weapons with me, drive all the way down to the Capitol, and stash them in case they're going to have a gun battle." There were also pipe bombs. The fact that there were weapons around and the fact that weapons were stashed, to me, screams conspiracy from the start. One does not just prepare with no reason for a battle or some sort of war and crazy protest.

Is the committee investigating the role of Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon and others in Trump's inner circle?

The committee is definitely looking at them. They are looking at everything which leads up to Jan. 6. For my own reporting purposes, I focus very much on: What did Trump know and when did he know it? But the committee, with all of its resources and all of its expansive investigative powers, is looking at every single facet related to Jan. 6. That does include the rhetoric and the genesis of the claims which propelled the entire "Stop the Steal" movement, Trump's speech on Jan. 6 and the actual storming of the Capitol in itself.

Mike Flynn was at the center of all of that, but we are not sure if Flynn was at the center of the Willard Hotel plan. We're not sure if Flynn knew about that plan. Steve Bannon did appear to know about this. In fact, Bannon has talked openly about the plan. He and Navarro have both credited each other as knowing in advance what would happen with the "Green Bay Sweep." Both say they were intimately involved. The committee now has to tie all these threads together and construct a picture of the events that led to the Capitol attack.

What does the public evidence suggest about what Trump knew and when he knew it?

I believe that Donald Trump knew by mid-December. His operatives were putting together a plan, or several plans, to put him back in office. He knew by the start of January about the plan to violate the Electoral Count Act, which was unlawful, and to have Pence insert himself into the certification process to return him the presidency. In total, Trump knew weeks before Jan. 6 the broad brushstrokes of what was going to happen. Closer to Jan. 6, I also believe that Donald Trump knew of the violence or the potential disruption by force of the certification. I do believe that the committee has reached that conclusion.

Once the committee issues its final report, will the American people even care about what happened on Jan. 6?

Half the population will care. The other half will not care.

Is there anything the committee could do, in terms of the framing and presentation of their findings, that could make more people care about this dire threat to the country?

I really don't know. I don't know because people who think Trump incited an insurrection already believe that. People who don't believe that already don't believe it. There is nothing the committee will do that is going to change their mind. If the committee comes out with evidence that suggests Trump was responsible for a criminal conspiracy of some sort, or perhaps even seditious conspiracy, the people who already love Trump are going to dismiss that as the results of a partisan witch hunt just like impeachment.

On the flip side, if the committee doesn't find enough evidence to make any sort of criminal referral or anything major that they can put in their report, people who think Trump already incited the attacks are still going to think Trump incited the attack, regardless of what the committee says.

This committee and the work they are doing, I think, is less about the here and now, and more about what they are leaving for posterity, to show that at least some people were determined to find the truth of what happened on Jan. 6, and the final report was the product of their work.

That is all a congressional committee can do. They don't have the power to prosecute. They don't have the power to convict people, or even to indict people. All they can do is lay what their investigation has uncovered out for the American people. Whether someone chooses to believe it or not — I don't know if people can overcome their political persuasions, especially in this day and age. Maybe in a different era. But as the last year and a half has shown, that's a very difficult task.

What could a second American civil war look like?

Almost every day offers more evidence of how American fascism is becoming a reality. We now know for certain that Donald Trump and his coup cabal attempted to overthrow American democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. The coup continues as Republicans and their agents are attacking America's multiracial democracy in dozens of states, seeking to make it impossible for Black and brown Americans and other Democratic Party constituents to have their votes counted fairly.

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a former Trump ally, said last week that, well after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, Trump continued his seditious attempts to pressure members of Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump himself, along with acolytes such as Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon, continue to threaten and incite political violence against those deemed to be the enemy. At a rally last Saturday in Georgia, for instance, Trump continued to threaten violence against members of the media, calling them "animals."

As Salon's Igor Derysh reported last week, Trump's followers have been allegedly been going door-to-door in Black and brown communities in Colorado, engaging in acts of voter intimidation and harassment that echo the Jim Crow era of white supremacist terror and violence.

As shown by the vile attacks on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theory has made major inroads into the so-called mainstream of the Republican Party. Federal and local law enforcement agencies continue to disrupt right-wing terror plots across the United States.

The rising neofascist tide is global: Some white supremacists and other right-wing extremists see the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to gain combat experience they can later use in their battle against multiracial democracy and pluralistic society in the U.S. and other Western nations. Experts on political violence, fascism and other forms of political extremism continue to sound the alarm about the perilous moment now facing the United States, where democracy is teetering on the edge of collapse. Their warnings have been largely ignored by the country's political elites and the public more generally.

Barbara Walter is a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the world's leading experts on civil wars, political violence and terrorism. She is also a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has consulted for the State Department, the Department of Defense, the UN and the World Bank. Her essays and other commentaries have been featured at CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Walter's new book is "How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them."

In this conversation, Walter warns that the American people and their leaders have been blinded by a type of "status quo bias" that prevents them from responding properly to the democracy crisis and the danger of widespread political violence. She argues that privilege and a lack of historical experience with oppression have combined to create a state of willful myopia and denial for most white Americans about the existential peril the country now faces.

Walter draws upon some of the darkest moments in human history, such as the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, to explain why so many (white) Americans will likely remain in denial about the country's descent into civil war and other massive violence, even as the carnage is imminent or already happening around them. She warns that many people will comply, or perhaps collaborate, with the right-wing extremists who are committing worsening acts of terror and political violence.

Walter does hold out some hope, however, and offers potential solutions to help mitigate this crisis, including new restrictions on the way social media platforms circulate and amplify politically extreme content.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Donald Trump continues to threaten political violence against his "enemies" if he is punished for his crimes. Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon and other right-wing propagandists are also threatening political violence on a near-daily basis across the right-wing media echo chamber. The FBI and law enforcement continue to uncover potential right-wing terrorist plots. Why are so few people taking these dangers of right-wing violence seriously?

I believe it is human nature for people to not want to believe that they and their fellow citizens are capable of such things. Many people want to live in a world of wishful thinking where life is going to continue to go on in the same way that it always has.

If it is sunny today and you go to work and afterwards you have drinks with friends and then there is the weekend when you get to watch football and it's like that today, your bias is that it's always going to be that way.

People are status-quo biased. They truly believe that the way things are today is the way that things are going to be forever. As a result, many people do not see the warning signs. What is so amazing is that throughout history, violent extremists are often very public about their intentions, what their goals are and what strategy they're going to pursue to achieve those goals. Hitler is perhaps the best example. He wrote and published "Mein Kampf," laying out exactly what he intended to do. If you look at neo-Nazis and other white supremacists here in the United States and elsewhere, they have a book called "The Siege" which details exactly what their plans and intentions are.

The bible of the alt-right is a book called "The Turner Diaries." It lays out exactly how they intend to start a second civil war in the United States. "The Turner Diaries" includes an attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in that book a working gallows is erected outside the Capitol where they're going to bring "traitors" out for trial and then kill them. They're not hiding what they intend to do, and yet throughout history, the people who are at risk have not taken those messages, warnings and manifestos seriously.

In societies at risk for widespread political violence, is it common for the public and its leaders to be in a state of denial? For people to just ignore the obvious threats or say it is all just hyperbole?

As a social scientist, the example I would start with would be the Jews across Europe prior to the Holocaust because there is a very interesting variation in how Jews responded by country. There is also a noteworthy variation in terms of how Jews responded to the perceived threat of persecution and how communists and socialists responded.

In terms of the Jews in Europe, it was German Jews who had their heads in the sand the most and refused to see the disaster that was about to hit them. They actually could read "Mein Kampf." Many Polish Jews and Romanian Jews saw what was coming and tried to take action by fleeing Europe. The German Jews, less so. Why was this?

The German Jews were highly educated. They were cosmopolitan, they were the most assimilated. They were the most vested in the status quo. They were not living in ghettos, and they had not experienced pogroms until more recently. Therefore, many German Jews believed that they were going to be relatively untouched or that they had a vested interest in the society.

The German Jews were more likely to be caught by surprise, whereas if you are a Jewish person living in Poland, you've been ghettoized your whole existence, you've been the target of violence, you already know what the state is capable of. You know what your fellow citizens are capable of. You've seen the evidence of that. Such violence does not take you by surprise.

I think a similar dynamic is happening here in the United States. The American people as a whole have not witnessed the horrible things that human beings can do to each other because they have not been the target of such violence — except, of course, for African-Americans and other people of color who do see the approaching violence and disaster. Many white Americans do not want to see it. They do not want to hear the metaphorical train that is coming at them because they have not been targets of such violence as a group.

White Americans as a group tend not to believe the warnings by Black and brown people and others who see what is happening. Because they haven't had the direct experience, the hard evidence, of such things being true. I also believe that's because white Americans have a vested interest in the system. They really want to believe that the system is OK, and if they just keep their heads down and just weather this storm, everything's going to be OK.

How do people reconcile their wishes and dreams, or their delusions, with the obvious facts?

Trump and Flynn are preaching violence. You can quote them on it. If you read what they are saying, it is shocking. Yet few people seem to know about it. If I were to show what Trump and Flynn are saying, their actual words, to the average American, they would say, "You're making that up, it can't be true." Thus we have a situation where these things are happening, but the information is not being shared with the general public, or if they are hearing what is happening then it is being distorted or not fully represented in a way that leaves most Americans ignorant of what is really going on.

Historically, the side that wants to do these horrible things and put themselves in a position of power, to lead a dictatorship or start a "race war" or commit acts of genocide — for example, to kill all the Jews in Europe — will spend a lot of time investing in propaganda because they understand that if they can control the narrative they can control the average citizen. That is exactly what is happening now in the United States. Experts and other people like us see the warning signs because we're paying attention and we're reading widely. Most Americans are not.

At one of Trump's recent rallies, he told his followers to be ready to die to defeat "critical race theory." Michael Flynn recently told his audience he wanted them to "charge machine gun nests" in service to their cause. How do you fit these examples within your model of a second civil war or other massive violence in the United States?

One of the challenges that violent extremists have is how to expand their base of support. If they don't expand their support base, they just remain fringe movements forever. One way is to provoke a harsh government response. Let's say that there are peaceful protests, but then there are provocateurs there who try to get the police to open fire or to bash a few heads. Violence entrepreneurs will use those actions as evidence that the police or the government or the opposition are evil and intent on crushing them.

That tactic is often successful in radicalizing at least some portion of average citizens. It pushes them towards the extremists. Donald Trump is what I would describe as an "ethnic entrepreneur." He and his loyalists want to regain power. He is an autocrat. Trump has no interest in ruling democratically. But Trump is not going to get that power back without the support of the average white American. This means that Donald Trump has to convince them somehow that his is a worthy cause to defend.

How many people, in terms of a whole population, does such a movement need to take over society and impose its will on the public?

There is not much data on that question. Research suggests that perhaps 3% of the population is necessary to challenge whatever leader or group is in power. That is a quite small percentage, but if there is 3% of the American population out in the streets in a sustained way, it is actually enormous. You do not need a lot of people to start a civil war that's going to be incredibly costly to the country as a whole. All they would need are a few militia groups who are effective at targeting infrastructure and shutting down the economy.

What has the response been to your book and its warnings about a second civil war or right-wing insurgency in America?

To my great surprise, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People are reading the book. I didn't think that was going to happen. I didn't think Americans would want to read about the possibility of a civil war or read a book that is terrifying. And they did, in large numbers. But the second response has really been that 90% of the emails I get are people thanking me. They're grateful. They have been worried about what they're seeing and feeling in the country. The most grateful emails I get are from people who live in rural areas, who thank me for shedding light on this problem.

There are people who say I am being an alarmist and that somehow I am making a second American civil war more likely by talking about it. The reality is that we know that violent extremists on the far right have been growing significantly, especially since 2008. You can read what their plans are. You can see that many of them are stockpiling weapons and going through maneuvers and training for war. These right-wing groups were sending some of their members to Ukraine, prior to the Russian invasion, to gain combat experience. We know that these right-wing extremists are actively recruiting from former members of the military because they want individuals with combat experience.

What these right-wing extremists want more than anything else is for the rest of the American people to ignore them, because that way they can grow their numbers, get more training, and when they're ready to act they'll have the element of surprise on their side. These right-wing extremists are a relatively small, weak group. Any militias in the United States are going to be small relative to the U.S. military. They need the element of surprise. I wish that it were true that if we did not talk about this threat, it would go away. That is simply not the case.

I see a situation where the right wing is already engaging in acts of lethal violence and is mobilizing for widespread violence. It is a one-way battle at this point. Liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy Americans are doing little, if anything, to defend their country against the threat. I fear that once they realize what the neofascists and right-wing extremists are preparing to do, it will be too late.

In the CIA's manual on insurgencies there are three stages. The United States is in the second stage. The CIA calls it the "incipient conflict stage," and it is marked by discrete acts of violence. Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City was probably the very earliest instance. Here is what the CIA manual says, almost verbatim: "The insurgents' goal is to broadcast their mission to the world, build support and provoke a government overreaction to their violence so that more moderate citizens become radicalized and join the movement."

The second stage is when the government becomes aware of the groups behind these attacks, but according to the CIA, the violence is often dismissed as the work of bandits, criminals or terrorists. What is so dangerous about the second stage is that citizens, politicians and law enforcement usually miss it. They don't connect the dots, they don't see that the movement is growing and that this is a precursor to open insurgency. Instead, these attacks are dismissed as idiosyncratic or the result of crazy people who have no connection to a larger movement. That's exactly where we are today.

When you and other experts use the term "civil war," how is it defined?

Experts use it as a type of umbrella term. Underneath that umbrella are all sorts of different forms of violence that can happen within a country. Civil wars mean violence that's fought by a domestic group within a country that targets the government for political purposes. It becomes a civil war or a major civil war if it kills a thousand people during the course of the war.

Civil war can take different forms. There are social revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution or Mao's revolution in China. Social revolution is the most destructive type of civil war. It's a civil war where the rebels want complete political, economic and social change. There can also be a violent coup that kills a thousand people and is contained to a capital city. There is everything in between.

What we tend to see frequently in countries with powerful militaries are insurgencies. These tend to be more decentralized and usually fought by multiple militias and paramilitary groups. These militias have political goals, but their methods are very different. They don't want to engage the military directly for the most part, don't want to target soldiers, because if they engage the U.S. military, for example, they're going to lose. They instead use unconventional methods, like guerrilla warfare, hit-and-run attacks, domestic terrorism, where they're targeting the soft underbelly of a society, such as civilian infrastructure. In the United States we are not going to see a civil war like we saw in the 1860s.

What do we know about the public mood and emotion in a society that is about to experience a civil war or other mass violence?

The groups that tend to start these civil wars and insurgencies are driven by resentment. As such, the groups who decide that violence is a justifiable means to try to create political and social change are those that are losing status and have a deep sense of resentment towards other groups who are perceived as rising or doing better. These are the "sons of the soil" groups.

It is that resentment that motivates their leaders. Average citizens are motivated by a different emotion to follow such leaders. That emotion is fear, which is an incredible motivator for average citizens to pick up a gun and start fighting. Ethnic entrepreneurs, violence entrepreneurs — those individuals who want to start a civil war to catapult themselves to power — understand the power of fear. What they do is create propaganda and circulate it among average citizens. They tell them that their lives are under threat.

In a given society, and most certainly here in the United States, most members of the general public, white Americans and privileged people in particular, are fence-sitters. They may know that something is deeply wrong in the country, but they will do nothing about it. What does that oft-discussed "silent majority" actually do when a society starts to fall apart and people are killing each other?

Such people are going to hold on to hope as long as they can. They're going to plug their ears and cover their eyes and engage in wishful thinking as long as they can. And then, when something happens and they're forced to choose sides, their base instinct is to survive and to do whatever they need to do to survive.

If there is a paramilitary group that is putting up roadblocks on their street, if there's a group of people wearing all black with no insignias controlling a roadblock in a neighborhood with machine guns, the average person is going to do whatever those people want them to do. Survival drives behavior. Those fence-sitters are going to hope they're not going to become the targets of the violence.

Not all the far-right groups are white supremacists, but many of them are. What they want is for the United States to become a white "ethnostate," or at the very least for certain states like Michigan to become white ethnostates. These white supremacists understand that if they don't shoot at white people, then many white people are probably just going to keep their heads down and not do anything. It's exactly what happened in places like Germany, where if you see that the Germans are targeting Jews, you do everything possible to make sure that you aren't identified as a Jew. I believe that the average human who is trying to survive will do a whole lot of ugly things to keep themselves alive.

How do we prepare the American people for this civil war or insurgency or other such right-wing violence? Will it be a series of escalating events? Isolated acts of violence? Something spectacular, like 9/11?

Their ideal scenario is to coordinate, so that on a given day there would be multiple attacks. As I see it, it would almost feel like 9/11, where you wake up in the morning and you're watching TV and you know that something has happened and everything seems chaotic. You're not really sure who's in charge or what type of threat this is and what you should do about it.

I see a scenario where there are bombings in multiple state capitals, or a series of assassinations, or maybe both at the same time. Suddenly the federal government is facing a leaderless resistance. The country's leaders are trying to figure out how to respond. In the meantime, the American people are watching this all happen and wondering: What the hell's going on, who's in charge, and what should we do?

Some of these right-wing militias are going to want to capture territory in certain parts of the country and hold it. Some of them are going to pursue their own agendas. For example, I could imagine militias in Michigan saying, "We're never going to gain control of the federal government, but Michigan could be a white state — we just have to convince all the nonwhites to leave. We do that by bombing their churches and targeting their stores with attacks. Eventually, the nonwhites will be forced to move south and we'll ultimately get what we want."

If the right-wing extremists are not able to coordinate their attacks, then we are just going to see a series of consistent attacks every few weeks. There will be a feeling that the country is under siege. Northern Ireland is a great example of this. The British military, as strong as it was, could not get rid of the IRA. The IRA continued to operate until the British government eventually negotiated with them.

If you had 15 minutes to brief President Biden or Attorney General Garland, what would you highlight as the first steps they should take to contain this threat?

Regulate social media. It's the easiest thing that the U.S. government can do. The five biggest tech companies are all American companies. Don't engage in censorship. Let people put whatever they want on social media, but regulate what tech companies are allowed to do in terms of their recommendation engines. Don't allow them to take the most incendiary material and push it out to the widest possible audience, because that is causing a range of really negative societal effects. These include helping to accelerate the decline of democracy, helping to grow the rise of ethnic nationalism and hate crimes and helping to make it easier to organize militias. Regulating social media would be the quickest and easiest way to reverse these negative effects.

It’s science: Trump voters are dumb

The United States is experiencing an existential democracy crisis, with leading Republicans and millions of their voters and supporters either tacitly or explicitly embracing authoritarianism or fascism. Democrats, for the most part, have not responded with the urgency required to save America's democracy from the rising neofascist tide.

American society was founded on white settler colonialism, genocide and slavery. This unresolved "birth defect" at the foundation of the American democratic experiment meant that the country was racially exclusionary by design, from the founding well into the 20th century. At present, American politics is contoured by asymmetrical political polarization, in which Republicans have moved so far to the right that the party's most "moderate" members are far more extreme than the most "conservative" Democrats. This makes substantive compromise and bipartisanship in the interests of the common good and the American people almost impossible.

Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Trump supporters and Trump-loathers, increasingly do not live in the same neighborhoods or communities. In all, they largely do not socialize with each other, or have other forms of meaningful interpersonal relationships in day-to-day life.

To the degree that "race" is a proxy for political values and beliefs, the color line functions as a practical dividing line of partisan identity and voting. Religion is also a societal space that is divided by politics. For example, public opinion research shows that white right-wing evangelical Christians have increasingly embraced authoritarian views, conspiracy theories and other anti-democratic and antisocial values.

As the new Faith in America survey by Deseret News & Marist College highlights, the basic understanding of the role of religion in a secular democracy has become so polarized that 70% of Republicans believe that religion should influence a person's political values, where as only 28% of Democrats and 45% of independents share that view.

Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, also do not consume the same sources of information about news and politics. Conservatives now inhabit their own self-created media echo chamber, which functions as a type of lie-filled and toxic closed episteme and sealed-off universe. The creation of such an alternate reality is an important attribute of fascism, in which truth itself must be destroyed and replaced with fantasies and fictions in support of the leader and his movement.

America's struggle for democracy and freedom against authoritarianism is taking place on a biological level as well. Social psychologists and other researchers have shown that the brain structures of conservative-authoritarians are different than those of more liberal and progressive thinkers. The former are more fear-centered, emphasizing threats and dangers (negativity bias), intolerant of ambiguity and inclined to simple, binary solutions. Conservative-authoritarians are also strongly attracted to moral hierarchy and social dominance behavior.

Recent research by Darren Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, demonstrates that America's democracy crisis may be even more intractable than the above evidence suggests. In his recent article "Cognitive Sophistication, Religion, and the Trump Vote," which appeared in the January 2021 edition of Social Science Quarterly, Sherkat examined data from the 2018 General Social Survey and concluded that there are substantial negative differences between the thinking processes and cognition of white Trump voters, as shown in the 2016 presidential election, as compared to other voters who supported Hillary Clinton or another candidate, or who did not vote at all.

Sherkat observes that Trump support has been linked to religion and level of education, but until now not to "cognitive sophistication," which was found "to have a positive effect on voting, but a negative effect on choosing Trump." He notes that "philosophers and political elites have debated the potential effects of mass political participation" for generations, concerned "about the unsophisticated masses coming under the sway of a demagogue." In effect, this debate was always about the quality he calls cognitive sophistication, since citizens who lack it "may not be able to understand and access reliable and valid information about political issues and may be vulnerable to political propaganda":

Low levels of cognitive sophistication may lead people to embrace simple cognitive shortcuts, like stereotypes and prejudices that were amplified by the Trump campaign. Additionally, the simple linguistic style presented by Trump may have appealed to voters with limited education and cognitive sophistication. Beginning with [T.W.] Adorno's classic study of the authoritarian personality, empirical works have linked low levels of cognitive sophistication with right-wing orientations....

Trump's campaign may also have been more attractive to people with low cognitive sophistication and a preference for low-effort information processing because compared to other candidates Trump's speeches were given at a much lower reading level…. While much of the Trump campaign's rhetoric and orientation may have resonated with the poorly educated and cognitively unsophisticated, those overlapping groups are less likely to register to vote or to turn out in an election.

As part of his research, Sherkat evaluated the political decision-making and cognition of Trump's voters, using a 10-point vocabulary exam. In a guest essay at the website Down with Tyranny, he explains what this vocabulary test revealed about white Trump voters:

Overall, the model predicts that almost 73% of respondents who missed all 10 questions would vote for Trump (remember, that is controlling for education and the other factors), while about 51% who were average on the exam are expected to vote for Trump. Only 35% of people who had a perfect score on the exam are predicted to be Trump supporters.

Notably, this very strong, significant effect of verbal ability can be identified within educational groups. While non-college whites certainly turned out more heavily for Trump, the smart ones did not — only 38% of those with perfect scores are expected to go for Trump, and only 46% of non-college graduates who scored a standard deviation above the mean. The same is true for college graduates — low cognition college graduates were more likely to vote for Trump. ...

What is really depressing isn't just the poles of the vocabulary exam, it's the average. The mean and median of the scale is 6 — so half of white Americans missed 4 of the easy vocabulary questions.
Sherkat's research also explored how religion impacted support for Donald Trump among white voters: "This study confirms that white Americans with fundamentalist views of the Bible and those who embrace identifications with sectarian Protestant denominations tended to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election."

Belief that the Bible is the literal "word of God" also impacted Trump voting: "Viewing the Bible as a book of fables is also significantly predictive of vote choice, with secular beliefs reducing the odds of a Trump vote by 80 percent when compared to literalists, and reducing the odds of a Trump vote by 52 percent when compared to respondents who view the Bible as inspired by God."

In an email to Salon, Sherkat offered additional context and implication on the relationship between white Christianity, American neofascism and cognition:

The problem of the contemporary American fascist right is rooted in education and information. And this problem is not simply about attainment of some quantity of education, but of the quality and content of education, how that leads generations of white Christian Americans to process information about a wide range of issues. The segregation academies that proliferated in the mid-1960s and accelerated in the 1970s have taught millions of Americans a radically skewed version of American and world history and encouraged a continued segregated society. The homeschooling movement augmented this division, and further denigrated the value of knowledge.

White fundamentalist Christians have always segmented their communities from the rest of America, and even exert considerable control over public educational institutions, particularly in rural areas and in the states which embraced slavery. White fundamentalist Christians distrust mainstream social institutions like education and print media, and they actively seek to eliminate public education and to provide alternative sources of information. As a result, people who identify with and participate in white Christian denominations and who subscribe to fundamentalist beliefs have substantial intellectual deficits that make them easy marks for a wide variety of schemes — from financial fraud to conspiracy theories.

If you can't read the New York Times, you're going to believe whatever you hear on talk radio or on television. It's simply impossible for people with limited vocabularies and low levels of cognitive functioning to make sense of the complex realities of the political world. And we now have a population where for 55 years substantial fractions of white people have gone to private fundamentalist Christian schools that leave them both indoctrinated in Christian nationalism and ill-prepared to process any additional information. Worse, we now have over a million children in a given year who are homeschooled by parents who are uneducated white fundamentalists — and that total has been pretty constant for three decades since the homeschooling movement blossomed.

What does this mean for the present and future of American democracy in this time of crisis? Sherkat cited the "disturbing ... influence of anti-intellectualism on American public life," which lends "performative power to ignorant elites":

Spouting off obvious untruths is no longer a mark of shame, because even basic historical and contemporary truths are not recognized. We seem to have a stable set of about 30% of Americans, 35% of white Americans, who are oblivious to political realities and incapable and unwilling to come to terms with any of our key social problems. The increasing control over public education by right-wing fanatics is entrenching ignorance and intellectual laziness in future generations. It does not bode well for the future of American democracy.

Donald Trump and his movement did not create all these American authoritarians and aspiring fascists. Such people have long been a feature of American society. What Trump and have accomplished in recent years is to empower and normalize a dangerous set of antisocial, anti-human, retrograde and anti-democratic values and beliefs.

Saving America's democracy will require a moral and political reckoning and acts of critical self-reflection on a nationwide scale about the American people's character and values, and about how their leaders and governing institutions have failed them.

Changes in laws and institutions are necessary. But on their own, such interventions will not stop the spread of fascism. A lasting remedy will demand that the country's political, cultural, and educational institutions be renewed, re-energized, and reimagined. The questions Americans must ask themselves are simple yet enormous: Who are we? What are we to become? How can we unite in defense of democracy, the common good and the general welfare? Without real answers to those questions, there will be no democratic renewal in the 21st century -- and fascism wins.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the 'true leader of the free world': military expert

Most people have heard the most famous truisms about armed conflict. No plan, we are told, survives contact with the enemy. In any war, truth is the first casualty. Of course, there is "the fog of war."

Those truisms are playing out in real-time in Russia's war against Ukraine. Much of the American and Western media is focused on sensational stories and images of human struggle and loss, rather than on the larger picture of what is really happening on the ground in this grinding, brutal conflict. Coverage is dominated by dueling propaganda narratives in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a saint and his besieged nation is a "brave little Belgium" (a First World War reference) while Vladimir Putin is an "irrational" bully, driven solely by a desire for mayhem and evil.

Digital media means that we see nearly real-time coverage of events on the ground in Ukraine — but that has produced at least as much confusion — if not more — among the general public than traditional media coverage. In total, much of the global public's understanding of what is actually happening in the Ukraine conflict has been clouded by information overload.

Punditry has gone into overdrive: A global crisis attracts experts, both genuine and self-appointed, who are trotted out by the 24/7 cable news machine to offer sometimes questionable or dubious "insights" to a global public hungry for answers.

We hear, of course, the usual narratives of American exceptionalism: Russia's war against Ukraine has proven again that the United States is an indispensable nation and has reclaimed its place as leader of the free world.

One thing is clear: the historical importance of Ukraine, and of this war, is beyond reasonable dispute. As Yaroslav Hrytsak recently wrote in the New York Times:

Ukraine is once again at the center of a potentially global conflict. World War I, as the historian Dominic Lieven put it, "turned on the fate of Ukraine." World War II, according to the legendary journalist Edgar Snow, was "first of all a Ukrainian war." Now the threat of a third world war hinges on what could happen in Ukraine…. After all, the struggle for Ukraine, as history tells us, is about much more than just Ukraine or Europe. It is the struggle for the shape of the world to come.

In an effort to make more sense of the confusing and rapidly changing events in Ukraine, I recently spoke with Matthew Schmidt, a professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven. Schmidt is an expert on Russia, defense, intelligence and foreign policy who has taught strategic and operational planning at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College. He has also taught at the Army War College and served as a representative to Ukraine's presidential election after the 2014 Maidan Revolution. His analysis and commentary have been featured on CNN, NBC News, Fox News, CBC News, CBS News and other outlets.

In this conversation, Schmidt explains why Russia's invasion of Ukraine has gone so badly, leaving Putin's military in a stalemate and on the verge of defeat. He also argues that, contrary to the analysis offered by many commentators, Putin himself is a rational actor, whose decisions are meant to advance his goal of a form of Russian manifest destiny that places his nation at the center of human history.

Schmidt issues an ominous warning: He believes Putin may order the use of battlefield nuclear weapons against Ukraine as a way of forcing a surrender and peace on his terms. With Russia's invasion force blunted by fierce Ukrainian resistance, Putin is targeting cities and other population centers for destruction in an effort to force Zelenskyy to sue for peace.

At the end of this conversation, Schmidt describes Zelenskyy as the true leader of the free world and a model of leadership that will be studied decades into the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As an expert in international relations and military affairs, when you look at Russia's war in Ukraine what do you see?

I see a war of independence that started in 2004 and will come to an end here. I do not believe it's just a war of independence in Ukraine. In the end, this all ends in the streets of Moscow. The shooting may stop in a year, it may stop in five years, or it may take considerably longer. But this is the event that has to bring down Putin. I think Ukraine frees Russia, eventually.

In terms of the mainstream American news media, 24/7 news cycle and all these talking heads and pundits, what are they getting wrong about the war?

The overall narrative frame was incorrect. We see this with all the retired generals who are on TV making their rounds. These generals are describing the war in Ukraine in terms of realpolitik. They take Putin's claims about Ukraine being in NATO seriously. Ukraine becoming part of NATO does not change the strategic balance.

The other incorrect assumption was that Russia was going to take Ukraine easily, that it was somehow inevitable. Too many observers misunderstood the nature of the Ukrainian military and how, in a good way, their society was militarized over eight years.

Putin talks as though we're going to roll tanks to Moscow from eastern Ukraine, which is just absurd. What such claims reveal is that Putin doesn't understand modern warfare. Stupidity is always a causal possibility here as well. Or Putin is engaging in maskirovka, this idea that you lie and deceive your enemy. One can even lie to their own people in the pursuit of this greater good.

The other error is a willingness by too many supposed experts to disregard the fact that Putin is driven by a vision, a form of manifest destiny.

What I find frustrating is the business of punditry itself. These people go from being supposed experts on the pandemic a few weeks ago to now being "experts" on military affairs and international relations. Some of the loudest and most confident voices do not have much specific expertise on matters of war and violence and politics.

You can do a lot of harm if you have access to mass media and you're not using that power to properly educate the public. When I am interviewed, I think of myself as a teacher. My class isn't in front of me in person, it's on the other side of that camera. I have 30 seconds to say something that will help people better understand this confusing and frightening situation.

Too many pundits go on TV and do interviews and focus on how they have 30 seconds for the camera to be pointed at them. They are thinking about how to make this time about me, because this is my career now — or my second career in the case of retired generals or others with a similar background. Many commentators actually seem to be excited when they talk about the war in Ukraine. In my opinion, that is dangerous in terms of what it does to U.S. policy.

What are some analyses you have seen that are just pure hyperbole? Are there others that perhaps underplay the real dangers?

I'm not sure there is much hyperbole anymore. At the start of the war, the discussions about the potential for Putin to use nuclear weapons were hyperbolic. We have seen his tone change. We now have to take Putin's threats seriously and consider the most extreme possible outcomes.

I do not believe that Putin is going to nuke London and New York. I think that the real threat is the use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Because to me, what is driving Putin is his vision of manifest destiny for Russia and the larger region. I also believe that this vision is quasi-religious. What happens with secular "religious" fanatics, people possessed by some sense of destiny and vision, is that they often end up as martyrs and are willing to do extreme things. That is what is truly frightening to me.

There's good cause for people to be scared, but again, they are scared of the wrong thing. People are scared that New York is going to be nuked, instead of battlefield weapons being dropped across Ukraine, breaking that taboo.

Why would Russia deploy battlefield nuclear weapons? Why risk that spiral of escalation?

The danger is that Putin is losing the war. The Russians have — this comes from the Soviet era — written into their doctrine a theory called "escalate to de-escalate." Putin could escalate the war by using battlefield nukes to bring Zelenskyy to the table, who would then say that the cost to society, to his people, of doing this is now greater than the desire to hold on to their unity, their sovereignty as a nation. That's one way Putin could do it. He could use battlefield nukes in order either to push the West to act as an arbiter in negotiations with Zelenskyy, or to back the West off.

As long as he's using nukes inside Ukraine, it's a reasonable bet that the West won't intervene. Putin can use those nukes to regain control of what we in military planning call "operational tempo." Here Putin is forcing the other side to react to him instead of vice versa. At present, the Ukrainians and Russians are evenly matched to some degree. The Ukrainians are forcing the Russian military to react. The Russian military was not ready for that. But of course, using tactical nukes would radically change that balance.

Nobody starts a war planning to lose. What were Putin and his generals' assumptions? How did it go so wrong for them?

They thought they could take Ukraine in a few days and that they would have Kyiv and functional control of the rest of the country. They woefully underestimated the fighting spirit and commitment of the Ukrainian military and of ordinary Ukrainians. Putin and his generals also misunderstood that the Ukrainian military always had a two-line strategy. The first was to defend the borders as long as possible. The second was to fall back in a cohesive way so that those military units were still able to operate in an orderly way and then transition into guerrilla war. The civilian reserves are integral to Ukraine's defenses as well.

What was the Russian military's plan, on the tactical level?

I train people at the operational and strategic level of war. The mistakes the Russian military made are at that operational level. As a practical matter, there are errors in how they are trying to bring together a series of tactical operations into a whole that in turn leads to a strategic aim.

It appears that the Belarusian troops and the troops from the north are mostly conscripts. The plan was to roll them in, in large numbers, to take Kyiv. But these forces were second-tier. In the south, the Russians positioned the naval infantry, the marines out of Novorossiysk, to take the road that runs along the Sea of Azov and connects into Crimea. Those forces would then work as ground troops in cities like Mariupol and in the surrounding area. Russian forces are working toward Odessa, which is understood to be a "Russian city" culturally and is very important to Putin to take.

Putin had bad troops in the north who failed to maintain their vehicles. Stupidity was the causal variable that really caused that much-discussed huge convoy to bog down. The key error there was not maintaining the vehicles. The other error was that the Russians do not have a good NCO core, meaning the non-commissioned officers. Russian troops were also not told what they were going to Ukraine to do. That is a tactical error that has strategic-level importance.

And then, of course, where has the Russian air force been? The Russians did not expect the Ukrainians to be as capable as they have been in air defense. That's been a huge problem for the Russians, and will continue to be, because the United States has given Ukraine so many Stinger missiles. The U.S. and NATO are going to try to create a no-fly zone from the ground up. The Russian pilots were not given enough hours in their jets to properly train. They are not capable of effectively maneuvering around the Ukrainian air defenses, which they should be able to do.

Is this a story of the Russian military being incompetent or is the Ukrainian military that good?

It is both. The Ukrainian military is one of the best in Europe now. It's small, and it doesn't have the equipment, but it is battle-hardened. You have two or three generations of fighters who have now passed through the front lines in Ukraine, going back to 2014. There are a lot of Ukrainians that have really good operational experience on the ground.

I think the Russians really did underestimate just how good the Ukrainian military was. Putin misunderstood the nature of the war. I also believe that Putin, like Western armchair generals, overplayed the impact of fancy tech and fancy weapon systems, and underplayed the importance of solid small-unit capabilities and the will to fight.

And then I think you have a problem with the culture of the Russian military. It is true that Putin modernized the military, but the culture is still heavily Soviet. It is deeply hierarchical. It doesn't devolve command down to the tactical level because it doesn't trust tactical commanders. As a result, the Russian military under that system makes many mistakes on the ground, whereas the Ukrainian military has highly talented, mobile, independent units that can punch above their weight because they're led better than the Russians are, even if the Russians have better weapons.

But this is also why the war is going to get even bloodier. The Soviet tendency to work from the top down means that orders are given to just obliterate cities because that is the easiest thing to do.

There are many cheerleaders for NATO who are proclaiming that the Russian military is so incompetent that the U.S. military, along with NATO, would defeat them easily. What is the error of inference and assumption there, if there is one?

The error is that Putin would escalate. Putin sees Ukraine as Russian territory. If the U.S. and NATO were to go into Ukraine and impose a no-fly zone or something of that sort, Putin is going to see that as an attack on Russia. Putin would then have a rationale to escalate with things like battlefield nukes.

There are units such as the naval infantry that are probably Russia's best troops. They would put up a hard fight. But as good as those elite troops are, our entire Marine Corps is as good as they are. Not just our special forces in the Marine Corps, but your average jarhead is probably close to Russia's best in many ways. Yes, we would win if we were allowed to fight it at that level. But Putin would escalate to de-escalate.

Will the weapons and other support being sent to Ukraine by the U.S. and its NATO allies help to turn the tide of battle against the Russian forces? I am thinking specifically of Switchblade drones and other semi-autonomous weapons, as well as the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems that are being discussed.

When Zelenskyy says he needs a no-fly zone, we should listen. But in this case, I see the evidence as showing that the bulk of the damage is being caused by missiles and artillery. We've made a mistake not putting in Patriots or an "Iron Dome" system, and anti-artillery systems (counter-battery systems). Not doing that has given Putin leverage by being able to punish civilians and in effect take them hostage because he can target civilians with impunity.

Is Vladimir Putin a rational actor? That does not mean that you and I or anyone else endorse his behavior — that is a common misunderstanding of the definition. How do experts explain what that concept actually means?

Here is how I explain the concept of a "rational actor." You go home for Thanksgiving, and you have one side of your family that watches Fox, and you have the other side of your family that watches MSNBC. Both sides are rational, but you don't recognize the validity of the logic of the other side. But within their system of logic, they're behaving appropriately. If A leads to B leads to C, and someone on the other side of the table says, "Well, then the next answer is D," that's rational. That's following the system of logic. If they go, "A leads to B, leads to C, leads to F," that doesn't make sense, that is illogical. But Putin's not crazy. Putin is following his own system of logic. He's as predictable as any of us are.

What is Putin's theory of Russia's destiny?

Putin believes that Russia has a special place in world history. Russia's role is to drive world history by standing between what he sees as European values and Asian values. In Putin's mind, if Russia is not the center of this geographic and cultural and spiritual space known as Eurasia, then the future of mankind is different, perhaps even catastrophic. Putin is trying to preserve the capacity of Russia to keep its space as a great power in human history. Putin has to maintain control of Ukraine because it is historically and spiritually critical to that project.

For Putin, if Ukraine goes democratic and adopts European values, which "Eurasianism" is against, then Ukraine becomes the point through which Russia loses its Eurasian values and becomes European. He is afraid of a Westernized and Europeanized Ukraine that has a stable democracy, however corrupt and whatnot, that believes in things like gay rights and a free press. If that happens, that destroys what Putin believes is the appropriate cultural space for Russia to lead.

There is a multitude of competing images and narratives about the events in Ukraine. What advice do you have for the public about how to better navigate what is really happening? How can the public be more critical in terms of understanding propaganda and how these images and stories are generated and in whose interests?

The public needs to understand that the information war is arguably more important than the war on the battlefield. To some extent, the kinetic war is driven by the need to create images and narratives that are circulated across the information realm. In turn, this drives the willingness of the U.S. Congress, for example to pass bills that will bring aid to Ukraine. That is a huge strategic win for Ukraine, in terms of the information war and world public opinion. Propaganda works best when there is truth in it, even if there are things that are not real as well.

I also believe that, insofar as you can have a justified or a moral war, then Ukraine's defense of their country is one such example. The public needs to get ready for the fact that there will be atrocities committed by Ukrainian troops. There is a huge amount of anger in these troops. Especially as this devolves into a war with civilians, I think you'll see those stories come out. You'll find less disciplined civilian defense units that will commit war crimes against Russians if they have the opportunity.

How would Putin define some sort of "victory with honor," in terms of ending this war in a ceasefire or other negotiated resolution?

Victory for Putin is controlling the political future of Ukraine. Putin does not need to make Ukraine a part of Russia in the legal sense. However, Putin has to control the political future of Ukraine. I do not believe there is an ending to this war short of that which will satisfy Putin. That is why I'm afraid of escalation.

Again, ultimately this ends in the streets of Moscow with the destruction of the Putinist regime. For Russia, this means the culmination of its post-Soviet stage of development because it has replicated the same sort of personality cult as the czars and Stalin. Now it is in the form of Putin. That must end.

That's where we end up ultimately. It may be a long time after the shooting stops in the war. I do not see any other route for the Russian people but to decide that their country has to step down from being a world power and instead be a European power, with all the rights and theories of European governance in place. Russia must cede its position as a world player to countries like the U.S. and China.

The situation in Ukraine is dynamic. With all of the talk of negotiation, Putin's army supposedly stalled and daily images of atrocities, how do you read the big picture?

The Russian military has reached "culmination." That term means the time when the attacking force can no longer continue its advance. Russia has been hit unexpectedly hard. It's taken significant losses, including in senior officers, critical equipment and supplies. The front is basically static at this point.

The implication is that Putin will have to: 1) negotiate, 2) resupply and restart the same basic plan or 3) adopt a new plan that gets around the reasons he can't advance. Putin is not actually ready to negotiate. He will escalate the war with NATO and not Ukraine. The escalation is aimed at pressuring the West to be his weapon and to put pressure on Zelenskyy to capitulate, because he knows the West won't intervene to allow Ukraine to win on the ground.

Zelenskyy is now saying that he'd negotiate right away. Putin changed his plan and decided to use missiles and artillery — which the West could have helped to blunt — to take whole cities and populations hostage. Now Zelenskyy is being forced to choose between the population he's responsible for that is being held hostage, such as in Mariupol, and the things that population is fighting and dying for, which are independence, territorial integrity and European values and identity.

Putin's center of gravity is the fact that he can hold those cities hostage. Without that, he doesn't have leverage. But at this moment in the war, Putin has that leverage. In this moment, Putin is in fact not deterrable by anything Ukraine can do, because they don't have the tools to stop his hostage-taking.

The only other choice for Zelenskyy is to continue the fight until the conditions shift and he has leverage to counter Putin's leverage, but at a great cost in the lives of his people. The only other option is for NATO to intervene by forcibly setting up the necessary weapons to stop the missiles and artillery, which would be a significant escalation.

How would you assess Zelenskyy's performance?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has effectively become the leader of the free world. He has articulated the values of the West better than any of his peers and proven himself the most capable military leader on the planet today. He has led his people to a stalemate against the second-best military on the planet. Even if he can't "win," he's shown Western militaries how to use information, diplomacy and force of arms to fight the most modern war yet. He will be studied in war colleges for decades to come.

The American right's frightening emulation of Vladimir Putin is getting worse

Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" is one of my favorite documentary films. It is especially timely given Vladimir Putin and Russia's war on Ukraine.

Robert McNamara, who was secretary of defense under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and one of the chief architects of the disastrous war in Vietnam, is the film's subject. If you let people talk, they will show you who they really are. Morris demonstrates great skill at allowing villains to speak for themselves, and in doing so to reveal their complexity — and their sincere belief in their own victimhood and heroism. "The Fog of War" is a masterclass in that lesson, one which all interviewers and those others who use words for a living should internalize.

In the film, McNamara tells this story from his World War II past:

The U.S. Air Force had a new airplane named the B-29. The B-17s and B-24s in Europe bombed from 15,000, 16,000 feet. The problem was they were subject to anti-aircraft fire and to fighter aircraft. To relieve that, this B-29 was being developed that bombed from high altitude and it was thought we could destroy targets much more efficiently and effectively.
I was brought back from the 8th Air Force and assigned to the first B-29s, the 58th Bomb Wing. We had to fly those planes from the bases in Kansas to India. Then we had to fly fuel over the hump into China.
The airfields were built with Chinese labor. It was an insane operation. I can still remember hauling these huge rollers to crush the stone and make them flat. A long rope, somebody would slip. The roller would roll over [that person], everybody would laugh and go on.

That story of laughter and death and numbness applies to America's current situation as well. Former Trump White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham recently told "The View" that Donald Trump wanted the power to kill with impunity. In explaining why Trump both admired and feared Vladimir Putin she said:

I think he was afraid of him. I think that the man intimidated him. Because Putin is a scary man, just frankly, I think he was afraid of him…. I also think he admired him greatly. I think he wanted to be able to kill whoever spoke out against him. So I think it was a lot of that. In my experience with him, he loved the dictators, he loved the people who could kill anyone, including the press.

A healthy society would have been stunned, disgusted, terrified and moved to action by Grisham's confession. The evident fact that Trump is a sociopath would have been the subject of extensive news coverage. If America were a healthy society, we would have an ongoing "national conversation" about the peril the country experienced from Trump, his Republican-fascist allies and their movement — danger that has only grown stronger.

A healthy society would now ask: How can we prevent another Donald Trump, another fascistic, sadistic demagogue, from ever coming to power?

What does it say about American society that Donald Trump and his cabal of coup plotters and other enemies of democracy and freedom have not been punished? That they are plotting in public how to overthrow American democracy and return Trump to power without fear of punishment or other negative consequences? And that Trump still has many tens of millions of followers — many of whom are potentially willing to engage in acts of violence, and perhaps even die, at his command? What does that say about a country and a people?

What was the response to Grisham's comments about Donald Trump's desire to commit murder? Silence and indifference. Neither the media nor the American people seem to care. They have become desensitized to what not long ago would have been judged unconscionable.

America is a pathocracy. The masses take their cues from corrupted elites. Malignant normality is the new normal. Political deviance has been normalized. The Age of Trump constantly offers further proof that a sick and broken society can accept just about anything, no matter how surreal and grotesque

Fascism thrives in such societies. But the poison could not have spread so quickly if the soil and foundations were not toxic to begin with.

It is not adequate simply to say that Donald Trump idolizes authoritarians, demagogues, political strongmen and tyrants. The essential question must be this: Who are the specific objects of ideation and worship for Donald Trump, the other American neofascists and their followers?

The most prominent example, of course, is Vladimir Putin. The American people and the world should not be swayed and bamboozled by the Republican Party and its propagandists, who are now trying to claim that they are diehard Cold Warriors, forever united against Putin and his aggression. The American people and the world should also not be seduced by superficial public opinion polls that purport to show that Republican voters are now vigorously anti-Putin and do not support his war against Ukraine.

Today's Republican voters and other Trumpists are part of a political cult. They follow, uncritically, whatever directives and various signals are sent to them by Donald Trump, Fox News, the white right-wing evangelical churches and the larger right-wing echo chamber.

Public opinion polls taken before the invasion of Ukraine show that Republicans view Vladimir Putin as a better leader than Joe Biden. That is no coincidence. It is publicly known that Putin and Russia's intelligence agencies have been engaged in a long-term influence campaign designed to manipulate (and manage) the Republican Party, its leaders, the right-wing news media and their public.

Putin is an authoritarian and a demagogue. He is anti-human, anti-freedom and anti-democracy. He stands against the future and human progress and pluralism. To many of his admirers in America and the West, he is a leader of "White Christianity." Putin has persecuted and imperiled the LGBTQ community, and is hostile to women's rights and women's equality. He kills and imprisons journalists, and is doing his best to silence free speech.

Most recently, Putin has indicated that criticism of his regime and the war in Ukraine will be viewed a type of thoughtcrime. He is using similar language to the Republican fascists and the larger white right in claiming victimhood and suggesting he has been "canceled" by elites.

Putin's Russia is a plutocracy and a kleptocracy controlled by an oligarchic elite of white men. He uses secret police and other enforcers to terrorize any person or group he deems to be the enemy. Republicans in the U.S., and many of their allies and followers, want to exercise that kind of power in America.

In a new essay at the Boston Review, Bethany Moreton elaborates:

Why would a group of ultra-nationalist Americans celebrate the invasion of a U.S. ally by someone both the left and right have largely understood to be an enemy of freedom?
In fact, though, the U.S. right wing has long cultivated ties with Russia. Some of these are self-evident quid-pro-quo affairs: The "sweeping and systematic" campaigns of election interference authorized by Putin in support of a Trump victory in 2016 and 2020; Trump's attempt to leverage Congressionally allocated aid to Ukraine for political dirt on the Biden family; the confessed Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast in a bid to develop informal channels of influence on the Republican Party.
More broadly, however, U.S. conservative evangelicals have developed strong symbolic and institutional ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. In recent years, these have dovetailed with white racist fantasies of Russia as an ethnically pure land of traditional religion and gender roles, symbolized by the bare-chested kleptocrat on horseback, Vladimir Putin….
At the much broader level of institutionalized ambitions to "dominion," the Russian partnership has proved invigorating to the American right's overlapping agendas of white supremacy, masculine authority, and anti-democratic Christian authority. If Putin's cooperation with the Moscow Patriarchate is a model for emulation, American theocrats are telling us what they seek here at home. We would be foolish not to take them at their word.

In total, the Republican fascists and the larger "conservative movement" have shown themselves to be Putin's puppets.

To make matters even worse, Putin now imagines himself as a 21st-century version of Joseph Stalin.

To wit. In a speech on Wednesday, Putin denounced "national traitors" who are supposedly undermining the war on Ukraine, saying that "real" Russians will "always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors." This is the man so many of today's Republicans idolize. That should make clear how dangerous to American democracy and society they truly are.

The form of politics modeled by Vladimir Putin and his Stalinist dreams cannot be precisely replicated in America. As such, it is being massaged and reshaped by the Republican neofascists and their allies to assimilate more easily into American political culture. But it is no exaggeration to suggest that those forces are engaged in a Stalinist revolutionary struggle against American democracy; their tactics, strategies and goals are that extreme.

Donald Trump and Michael Flynn's goading of violence cannot go unchecked

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Michael Flynn and the other leaders of the American neofascist movement are very generous, in their own sinister fashion. They make their escalating threats of right-wing violence, insurrection and other forms of mayhem in public. There is little skulduggery or subterfuge involved.

Why are they so bold? Because they have suffered no serious long-term negative consequences for their behavior. And for the most part, the Republican fascists and the larger white right are winning in their war against American democracy. Momentum is on their side. Why should they conceal their intentions?

When disaster follows — be it some version of Jan. 6 (which is almost inevitable) or other acts of right-wing terror — the American people and their leaders will not be able to claim ignorance. They have repeatedly been warned and have chosen to ignore those warnings.

Last Saturday at a rally in Florence, South Carolina, Donald Trump continued with his threats of white supremacist violence. He suggested that his political cult members should enter into a lethal blood pact and fight an existential battle against the phantasm of "critical race theory" as proof of their loyalty:

Getting critical race theory out of our schools is not just a matter of values, it's also a matter of national survival. We have no choice…. The fate of any nation ultimately depends upon the willingness of its citizens to lay down — and they must do this — lay down their very lives to defend their country…. If we allow the Marxists and communists and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or protect our great country or its freedom.

Trump's commands are part of a larger pattern of behavior. At recent rallies in Arizona and Texas, he made similar hints at a "race war", and other appeals to fascist violence. His threats are becoming ever clearer and less veiled: His suggestion that his followers must be willing to die in order to stop the imaginary threat of "critical race theory" almost directly echo the infamous neo-Nazi "14 words" slogan and pledge.

How did the American mainstream news media respond to Trump's most recent white supremacist threats of violence and "race war"? For the most part, they ignored it. If an obligatory comment was offered about Trump's hate rally in South Carolina, it was derisive. Those reporters who did write about Trump's speech defaulted to obsolescent and dangerous habits of "horse race" political journalism, or whitewashing Trump's speech by focusing on "policy issues" or his signals that he is likely to run for president again in 2024. Such an approach normalizes, and therefore empowers, Trumpism and neofascism.

America's mainstream news media and larger political class continue to demonstrate that they are unwilling to respond to the escalating threats posed by the Trump movement and the larger white right.

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser and U.S. Army general turned coup plotter, spoke last weekend at a "ReAwaken America" event in Southern California that brought together election-fraud truthers, QAnon adherents and other conspiracy theorists. He also threatened violence against educators who resist the Republican moral panic over "critical race theory":they are unwilling to respond to the escalating threats posed by the Trump movement and the larger white right.

We need you to charge the machine gun nest…. Maybe I'm just asking you to dig a little bit deeper there or hold this side of the line, or form up cause we're gonna counterattack over here, and that counterattack is, we're gonna go after school boards.

Flynn's summoning of violence was not random hyperbole: He was an intelligence officer and is a trained expert in psy-ops, propaganda and manipulation.

Ron Filipkowski, a former federal prosecutor and an expert on right-wing extremism, was among the first people to sound the alarm about Flynn's recent comments. He offered further context in an email to Salon:

Flynn's general message is that there is a global cabal that runs the world, which is controlled by elites who want to erode national sovereignty. The supposed global elites use the media, universities and other institutions to manipulate and control the population. Part of these claims is that there is a "deep state" of career civil servants and government officials who really run things and that elected officials do not.
I am most concerned with supervisor of elections and secretary of state races. These officials in swing states, most of whom were establishment Republicans, refused to go along with the Big Lie and did their duty in 2020. That is why it is a high priority for Trump, Flynn, Bannon and others to replace them. These are low profile and low dollar races that can be won with far less effort than others. These are also races that the GOP is intensely focused on and the Democrats are not. If election fraud conspiracy theorists take over the offices that run and administer our elections, coupled with all the new "voter fraud" legislation, that would be a huge threat to the survival of our democracy.

Psychoanalyst: Trump is a coward who worships Putin's ruthlessness

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be exactly the kind of man that Donald Trump and his followers wish they could be. Putin is an authoritarian and a demagogue, who rules largely uncontested in a nation with an increasingly thin veneer of fake democracy. He imprisons, and sometimes kills, political foes and others deemed troublesome.

Putin treats his critics in the media and across civil society who do not support him as de facto enemies of the state, and suppresses free speech and human rights without apology. He is a kleptocrat and political gangster and an enemy of women's rights and freedoms, who also oppresses LGBTQ people, racial and ethnic minorities, and other groups seen as opposed to his project of restoring a Russian empire.

Beyond Putin's most obvious supporters, who include Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson and other right-wing leaders, public opinion research shows that rank-and-file Republicans (and especially Trump supporters) are also attracted to Putin's authoritarian values and behavior.

White right-wing evangelical Christians, for example, are among the most influential members of the Republican base and Donald Trump's most loyal supporters. They are especially enamored with Vladimir Putin, as Anthea Butler, one of America's leading scholars of religion and race, explains in a new essay at MSNBC. She observes that evangelical leaders "have embraced Russia — and, more specifically, Putin," but now find themselves caught in a bind after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has turned public opinion around the world strongly against the Russian leader:

But whether or not American evangelicals try to distance themselves from Putin in this current news cycle, they have long gravitated toward the Russian president for his hard-line stance against Muslims and, most importantly, his anti-LGBTQ agenda. Putin's rhetoric about the nation, the family and the church (in this instance, the Russian Orthodox Church), has captivated many and spurred them to embrace similar kinds of political action here in America. Consider all of the anti-gay and anti-transgender laws that are cropping up in states like Texas and Florida. These laws are part of a constellation of family-focused conservative religious ideals also embraced by Putin and other Eastern European leaders who have clung to a hard line against any so-called "anti-family" ideology.

For members of the religious right, alliances with these leaders present a new frontier in their hope to achieve a theocracy in America. According to journalist Sarah Posner, those on the religious right see Eastern European countries that embrace the Orthodox Church and its family values as the way forward. Because of these interactions between Eastern Europe authoritarian leadership and religious and political leadership of the GOP in America, clampdowns in the U.S. on abortion rights, trans children's rights and gay rights are therefore all coming back full force on the state level. We can't of course forget that Trump's consistent and solid support of Putin is also a significant factor.

Putin's war in Ukraine has forced many Republicans and other right-wing leaders and spokespeople to try to remove the stink left by their years of support for the Russian regime. That is no easy task, considering that some former members of the Trump administration are saying the quiet part out loud: Trump was doing Putin's work by weakening America's ties to NATO alliance, thus, in effect, creating a zone of permission for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, explained in a recent interview with the Washington Post, if Trump had followed through on his threats to remove the U.S. from NATO — an outcome Putin longed for — Russia's invasion of Ukraine would have almost certainly occurred even sooner than it did.

To discuss these matters and others, I recently had a conversation with Dr. Justin Frank, whom I have interviewed on severalpreviousoccasions. Dr. Frank is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center and a physician with more than 40 years of experience in psychoanalysis. He is the author of the bestselling books "Bush on the Couch," "Obama on the Couch" and, in 2018, "Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President."

In our most recent conversation, Frank explores how Vladimir Putin functions for Donald Trump: as a type of big brother and role model, perhaps even a father figure. Putin is a projection of Trump's deepest fantasies and wish fulfillment, Frank argues, a killer, warrior and political strongman who has the power to act with impunity against his personal and political foes. Frank also offers the opinion that fundamentally Donald Trump is a weak and cowardly person who is attracted to violence and mayhem, but relies on others to act on those antisocial and evil desires on his behalf.

Trump's repeated threats of murderous violence against Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats, Frank argues, as well as Trump's impulse to call for a "race war" are very serious, and not the idle threats that many among the American news media and political class would like to believe. Toward the end of this conversation, Dr. Frank suggests that Vladimir Putin is ultimately a superhero figure for Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, other Republican fascists and members of the larger white right who yearn to replace democracy with authoritarianism. For them, Putin is a type of protector figure and idol, acting out his worst impulses with near-total impunity — at least prior to his setbacks in Ukraine, which have made him appear vulnerable in the face of world opinion.

During one of our previous conversations, you warned that Donald Trump would only become more like his true self as he got older. It would appear you were correct. Trump continued to praise Vladimir Putin, right up to the moment of the Ukraine invasion, and Trump's rhetoric continues to suggest that he is trying to incite a "race war" and continuing to scheme about how to regain power.

What we are seeing now is Trump's true self. He is a paranoid, frightened man, driven by a lust for revenge. One of the things that he shares with Putin is that they both want to get revenge for the slights and hurts they believe they have suffered. And it's one of the things that the two of them have in common that is quite striking and startling to me. I believe that Vladimir Putin was humiliated by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He wants revenge against NATO and the United States. But Putin did not have to act while Donald Trump was still in office. As long as Trump was in office, Trump could damage the United States without Putin's direct help. Trump was already destroying many American political and societal institutions. Putin was able to sit back and enjoy it.

What about Vladimir Putin does Trump admire the most? For Trump, what is that relationship like?

When Trump looks at Vladimir Putin, he sees an older brother. Trump also sees in Putin a man who has the courage of his paranoid thinking. Trump would never lead an army into war; he dodged the draft with fake bone spurs. Putin is not like that. Putin is a former KGB agent who has likely killed people personally. Trump admires that. Trump looks up to Putin and sees him as a type of ideal. Trump likes the fact that Putin is a killer who has the courage to act on the things that Trump just talks and fantasizes about doing.

Trump is obsessed with violence. When he threatens violence and mayhem he is not kidding. None of it is hyperbole or some type of joke. So few public voices are willing to state that basic fact consistently and with clarity.

He is very sick and dangerous. He is the type of person who instigates the violence and then hides out in a bunker and watches it happen. Many of the Republican Party's leaders are cowards. But they do have people who act on their behalf, like those right-wing street thugs and the other people who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those people are not cowards. They are dangerous and destructive people who are capable of killing and other violence.

Those street thugs and other people who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection represent the deepest wishes of who Trump wants to be. Trump wishes he could have that strength and that courage, or that capacity to be directly violent. He does not. Instead, Trump sues people and cheats them.

Why are so many Americans still in denial about Trump and the imminent danger he represents? I have received many emails from readers of my essays and people who listen to my podcasts who almost plead with me to stop warning people about Trump and his movement. They appear to believe that ignoring the problem will somehow save them.

They want to stop thinking about it. Those people who email you because they don't want you to talk about Donald Trump are afraid of confronting their inner self. They do not want to face who they are deep inside. Such people also don't want to think about the other real nature of America — that we also have fantasies of violence and revenge.

Given what is now publicly known about Trump and his cabal's coup plot, what has been most surprising or disturbing for you?

Everybody has a part of their personality that hates reality. Hopefully, that is a small part of their personality. By comparison, Donald Trump hates reality. He attacks reality. Trump also hates critical thinking. He has this ability to tap into a part of the human mind that wants to live in a fantasy world. That is why so many of his followers truly believe in the Big Lie and Trump's other lies about the 2020 election. They see him the way they see themselves — as victims.

At one of his recent rallies Donald Trump used language that suggested he was trying to incite a "race war" and other acts of violence. He has also continued to publicly threaten the life of Hillary Clinton. I am one of the few people who have written about that. Why is there so much denial among the mainstream news media and others who are supposed to keep the American people informed?

It is a very scary thing to be forced to confront our own violent and destructive impulses. That is especially true in this country, because many Americans don't want to confront the fact that it is their fellow Americans who are making such threats. It is a deep type of denial and fantasy. That also explains why so many people in the American news media won't talk about Trump's threats of violence and killing and destruction. It scares them too, so they normalize or even dismiss the deadly seriousness of his threats.

What is Trump's emotional relationship with Putin and these other strongman-type leaders?

It's an unconscious love of somebody who can be more violent than you are. It is the love of a person who can do the things you are afraid to do. Political strongmen also provide a type of illusory protection for feelings of hatred and violence. That's why Trump's rallies were so powerful. He told his followers to act on their hatred and violence and that he would pay their legal fees if they got in trouble.

How would Trump respond if his violent threats and fantasies were to come true?

Donald Trump does not feel guilt. He would say, "I didn't really say such a thing." Trump would deny his murderous threats, both to the public and to himself. Trump wants to overthrow the United States' system of government, but he also would deny those thoughts and behavior the same way.

Would Trump feign guilt? Would he be remorseful?

Again, Trump would deny that he ever wished such a thing. You could play a video recording of Trump saying such things and he would deny it. Trump would say it was all fake and not real.

If you were conducting some type of group therapy with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, how would you direct the conversation?

With Trump, I would say, "How does it feel to be a con artist? What's it like? Who actually loves you? Who do you love? What's it like to just fool people all the time?" I would ask Vladimir Putin, "How does it feel to kill people?"

What would you focus on in terms of their relationship with each other?

I would say, "Not only are you a coward, Donald, you love to make Putin strong so that you can vicariously feel like you're a killer. You embolden Putin to be more of a killer because you are too afraid to do it yourself. And you push your murderousness onto him, psychologically. Donald, that is why you idealize these killers and totalitarian dictators."

What about the Republican politicians and Tucker Carlson and other prominent right-wing figures who are enabling that relationship? They have been all in on supporting Putin, at least until now.

They love his violence and power. It is all an example of what is known as "identification with the aggressor." Tucker Carlson idealizes people who he can't be like in real life, but Tucker wants to be on the same side they are. The Republican Party's leaders are the same way. You can identify with them so you can hide your own aggression behind them and feel safe. It is the same reason why people ally with bullies: They don't want the bully to turn on them. In their minds, as long as you idealize Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, they are never going to turn on you. Trump has the same dynamic with Putin. Trump feels stronger when he loves Putin. He feels stronger around dictators. It makes him feel like more of a man.

Vladimir Putin is a type of superhero for Donald Trump and the Republicans and the Tucker Carlson types. The psychological dynamic is: "He will make me feel safe from some authority figure or stronger person who might want to kill me. He will make me safe and powerful I don't have to worry about risking my life." That is why Trump and the Republicans and so many on the right idolize Putin.

Dear Joe Biden: We don't want 'unity' with fascists — that's why Democrats lose

I voted for Joe Biden in 2020. He was the best option available for defeating Donald Trump and buying time to organize a defense of American democracy against the neofascist assault. More than a year into Biden's first term in office, I have no regrets. I'd make that same decision again.

Despite tremendous obstruction from the Republican fascists (and their "centrist" allies embedded within the Democratic Party) — a group of sadists determined to cause maximum harm to the American people as a way of obtaining, keeping and expanding political power — Biden has accomplished a great deal as president. This includes slowing down the coronavirus plague, resuscitating the economy, taking long-overdue steps to fix the country's infrastructure and restoring America's leadership role in the world.

In a moment of great crisis when Vladimir Putin and Russia are waging war on Ukraine, to know that America has a leader who, unlike his predecessor, is intelligent, experienced and patriotic, as well as mentally and emotionally stable, brings no small amount of relief. Moreover, one does not have to ask the obvious questions that circled around Trump like flies around manure on a summer's day: "Is the president of the United States merely a useful idiot and stooge for Russia, or is he actually an agent and saboteur?" That too brings considerable peace of mind.

RELATED: Biden calls out the attack on democracy: But he didn't just mean Vladimir Putin

By all accounts Joe Biden is a humble, honorable and decent man who loves his family, has experienced great challenges and losses in life but has not succumbed to bitterness. That also signals to a type of wisdom demanded by the many crises facing the United States and the world.

To see Joe Biden, who overcame a significant speech impediment as a child, give the State of the Union address while millions of people around the world watched — and to watch him stammer occasionally while doing so — shows him to be a role model of perseverance, humanity, and vulnerability. He has been weathered by life, sometimes badly beaten down, and is still standing.

But there has always been a lingering doubt that gnaws at me as I watch Biden's presidency unfold in a time of plague and political crisis, and in a moment where America's present and future are nebulous and greatly in doubt. Unfortunately, his State of the Union address only served to reinforce my anxiety.

Joe Biden is a career politician who is now the leader of the free world and arguably the most powerful person on the planet. And like all politicians, he is a disappointment. Biden is far too quick to seek "compromise" with the Republican fascists — which mostly means outright capitulation. He represents the interests of big corporations at least as much as those of the American people. He is a professional centrist. He will in all likelihood never cancel student loan debt or make other efforts at great and lasting economic relief. Although driven by circumstance to embrace more progressive policies, Biden was one of the Clinton-era "New Democrats" who helped unleash neoliberalism and gangster capitalism on American society, greatly damaging the middle class he claims to care so much about.

My greatest worry about Biden is simple: America needs a fighting champion if its democracy is to be saved. To this point, as this week's State of the Union address made clear once again, he does not appear to be up to that challenge.

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In total, Biden's speech was an attempt to claim credit for his administration's many successes and to soothe an anxious American public that is deeply worried about the war in Ukraine, the economy and the pandemic. On that account, public opinion polls show that the speech was successful.

At the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein offers this generous summary, arguing that Biden's speech "portrayed him as a resolute champion of financially squeezed families at home and freedom abroad":

Repeatedly through the speech, Biden rejected stark political choices. Vigorous at points, meandering at others, the speech was neither a full-scale course correction, like Bill Clinton's 1996 declaration that "the era of big government is over," nor a stubborn reaffirmation of the strategies Biden employed during his trying first year in office. The president at times gave each faction in his party reasons to cheer, but did not align entirely with either liberals or centrists.

Instead, the address showed Biden and his advisers trying to define a distinctive political space centered on providing kitchen-table assistance to average families, encouraging greater national unity, and reasserting America's role as the leader of the small-d democratic world against challenges from aggressive autocracies symbolized by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The speech was the performance of a president who remains confident in his political compass, even as the steep and persistent decline in his job-approval ratings since last summer has caused many people in both parties to question it. Throughout, Biden underscored his determination to combine positions often considered incompatible…

Biden also, as Brownstein observes, reverted to his habit of seeking to placate Republicans and to distance himself from Democratic progressives:

Toward Republicans, Biden was alternately conciliatory (proposing "a unity agenda" and praising their involvement in the bipartisan infrastructure bill) and confrontational (denouncing Donald Trump's tax cuts and the surge of red-state laws rolling back civil rights and liberties). He pointedly renounced one of the most polarizing battle cries of his own party's liberal vanguard, calling to "fund the police" rather than "defund the police," while reasserting his commitment to criminal-justice reform and gun control, both enduring priorities for the left.

What was most notably absent from Biden's speech was any forceful and sustained discussion of the country's democracy crisis, the role of the Republicans in creating and amplifying it, and the fact that we now face a moment where the voting rights and civil rights — indeed, the fundamental human rights — of Black and brown people (along with members of other marginalized groups) are under existential threat from a new Jim Crow system.

Black Americans are among the Democratic Party's most important constituencies, and its most loyal voters. Without the support of Black people in both the Democratic primaries and the general election, and especially the support of Black women, Joe Biden would not be president today.

During Biden's victory speech in November 2020, he said: "Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me. You've always had my back, and I'll have yours." Those are fine words, but in terms of protecting Black America's voting rights and civil rights, Biden and his administration have not lived up to them.

RELATED: Media messes up coverage of voting rights, blames Biden for GOP's racism

His State of the Union speech was one more example of that failure. In several key moments, Biden signaled that he is temperamentally unable to do what is necessary to stop the Republican fascists' attempt(s) to end multiracial democracy.

Biden repeatedly spoke of the need to "unify" Democrats and Republicans. That means seeking "unity" with those who actively tried to nullify the 2020 election and supported a violent coup to prevent him from becoming president. Moreover, the Republican fascists have in no way ended their campaign to end American democracy and terminate Biden's presidency.

Biden often speaks boldly about American democracy being in crisis, and draws eloquently upon the images and legacy of the civil rights movement and Black Freedom Struggle while doing so. But he does not act with the "urgency of now" in seeking to defend that democracy.

The reasons for Biden's behavior are not mysterious. He is the product of an American political regime that is dying, but whose leaders and principal figures have, for the most part, not realized that fact. Biden genuinely believes that as a leading member of the American political caste he can somehow save the country's obsolescent political order. He is a Washington insider, an older white man and a "moderate". Once upon a time that might have meant that Republican leaders would work with him in good faith to find solutions to the country's many problems.

But in believing that is still true, Biden has committed a grievous error: Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement comprise a revolutionary force, which seeks to destroy American democracy and replace it with fascism or some other form of authoritarianism.

When Biden speaks of "unity" or "compromise" with the Republicans he is giving aid and comfort to the neofascist movement --if not surrendering to it altogether. In a recent essay for the New York Times, Charles Blow echoes these concerns as embodied by Joe Biden's description of Mitch McConnell as his friend:

So, how can Biden maintain that McConnell is an honest, honorable friend?

It seems that Biden suffers from the same blind spot as other white liberal leaders throughout history: looking past the oppressive impulses of other white men to see kinship and commonality. Where the oppressed see an existential threat, men like Biden only seem to see a disagreement among decent men on a political issue. They see them as simply on the "other side" rather than "other than."…

But this version of politics is an extension of the Looney Tunes cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, where they are enemies on the clock but are friends off the clock, and is offensive to the people whose very lives are at stake. And yet Biden continues to proclaim his affections for those supporting oppression.

These bonds across bigotry smack of the insecurity of allies. They smack of a privilege of which only white men can boast, because the threat is almost always aimed away for them and at others.

When it comes to the issue of power and politics, the Bidens and McConnells of the world maintain their own affinity group.

In an essay for the Guardian, Thomas Zimmer expands on this:

Over the past few weeks, President Joe Biden has repeatedly emphasized his friendship with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. At the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, for instance, he praised McConnell as "a man of your word. And you're a man of honor. Thank you for being my friend."

Biden's publicly professed affinity is weirdly at odds with the political situation. Going back to the Obama era, McConnell has led the Republican Party in a strategy of near-total obstruction which he has pursued with ruthless cynicism. It is true that he has, at times, signaled distance to Donald Trump and condemned the January 6 insurrection. But McConnell is also sabotaging any effort to counter the Republican party's ongoing authoritarian assault on the political system.

The distinct asymmetry in the way the two sides treat each other extends well beyond Biden and McConnell. …

Republicans could not be clearer about the fact that they consider Democratic governance fundamentally illegitimate, yet some establishment Democrats act as if politics as usual is still an option and a return to "normalcy" imminent.

"I actually like Mitch McConnell," Biden said during a press conference a few weeks ago, providing a window into what he sees in Republicans: No matter what they do, underneath they're good guys, they'll snap out of it. Promise. It's the manifestation of a specific worldview that makes it nearly impossible to acknowledge the depths of Republican radicalization — a perspective that severely hampers the fight for the survival of American democracy….

Some weeks ago, a prominent Black comedian asked on Twitter if Joe Biden thought that, because he's a white man, it meant Republicans would work with him in ways they refused to with Barack Obama? The answer to that question appears to be yes.

RELATED: Mitch McConnell's moment of truth: For many whites, Black people aren't real "Americans"

Whiteness is almost never a liability in American society. But when it comes to the Republican fascists, Joe Biden's skin color may not be helping him much. The Republicans, their followers and their media sycophants view Biden as the white leader of a predominantly Black and brown political party. (That is of course false, but the truth is irrelevant to the Republican fascists and larger white right.) In their eyes, Biden is a "race traitor," even if they do not use that exact term. For the Republican fascists and larger white right, no compromise is possible: Their almost-explicit goal is to create a 21st-century Herrenvolk society in which Black and brown people, to quote the infamous words of Chief Justice Roger Taney, have no rights the white man is bound to respect.

Biden and too many other white liberals and moderates continue to believe that compromise with the Republicans is still possible, and that finding "common ground" can redeem this moment of democratic crisis. That kind of white racial innocence may well be America's undoing.

Does anyone care that Donald Trump keeps threatening to kill Hillary Clinton?

Dear America: None of this is normal. Don't listen to the people who try to convince you that it is. They don't have your best interests at heart. In fact, you stand on the precipice of disaster — and you're running out of time.

Donald Trump, the former president of the United States and political crime boss of the Republican Party, continues to threaten his "enemies" with lethal violence — and at this point his enemies include anyone who opposes him, or stands in his way.

Trump is an entrepreneur of both political and interpersonal violence, although far too cowardly to engage in it himself. His threats should be taken seriously.

Yet the mainstream news media as a whole, along with most of the country's political class have decided to stand mute in response to Donald Trump's threats of mayhem. They have "moved on," which in this case makes them like the three proverbial monkeys who hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.

Instead of outrage, we largely feel exhaustion. The American people are growing increasingly indifferent to Trump's threats, and to the rising power of his neofascist movement, and the Republican Party's threats against democracy and the rule of law.

Honestly, who can blame the public for its general reaction? It is supposed to be the responsibility of a free press to tell the public what is important and how to think about it. As an institution, the mainstream media has largely failed in that regard, and for a variety of reasons has normalized the Age of Trump and its effects. It appears that the media and political classes have convinced themselves that if they ignore Trump's threats, they do not matter and the danger will go away. That's not how the real world works.

Last Saturday, Donald Trump issued yet another proclamation from his palace at Mar-a-Lago:

The latest pleading from Special Counsel Robert Durham provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia
This is a scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate and those who were involved in and knew about this spying operation should be subject to criminal prosecution. In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death. In addition, reparations should be paid to those in our country who have been damaged by this.

Donald Trump is literally threatening Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff with death. Trump's followers are listening closely.

Needless to say, Trump's statement is false in virtually every detail. There is no evidence that Trump's campaign was "spied on," illegally or otherwise. His allegations are based on a grotesque misrepresentation of the claims made by Durham (whose name is John, not Robert), as promulgated by Fox News and other right-wing propaganda media.

How did the American mainstream news media respond to Trump's latest death threats? With some polite fact-checking, but largely with silence. That amounts to permission or even encouragement of more such threats.

This is by no means the first time Trump has threatened Hillary Clinton, or other leading Democrats, with death or grievous physical harm. Trump and his various allies and surrogates have made such threats since at least the beginning of his 2016 presidential campaign. At one point during that campaign, Trump suggested that "Second Amendment people" might have to deal with Clinton if she were elected.

GOP censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger is a pivot point in American history

In the year-plus since the events of Jan. 6, 2021, the Republican Party has morphed, like an evil insect emerging from a chrysalis, into its final form: a terrorist organization. Rather than purging from its ranks those Republicans who supported, endorsed and participated in Donald Trump's coup attempt, the party and its leaders have rallied around them, and remade the party in their image. Rather than voting to impeach and convict Donald Trump, and therefore drive him out of the party, Republican leaders, along with the bulk of their voters and their mouthpieces in the media, have chosen to support him.

Republicans are so loyal to Donald Trump that even after the attack on the Capitol, where Republican members of Congress could easily have been killed — 147 of them voted to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In essence, they were completing the "legal" part of Trump's coup, even after the illegal part had failed (at least in that moment).

In the year since then, the scale of Donald Trump and his cabal's conspiracy and coup attempt has only become clearer and more obvious. There is no longer room for plausible deniability; the evidence is overwhelming. The United States was perhaps hours or days away from the overthrow of democracy, and at least an attempt at autocratic or dictatorial rule. Although that coup attempt was not successful, the campaign against American democracy continues and is escalating, largely undeterred.

In dozens of states across the country, Republicans are passing laws that will make it difficult or impossible for Democrats to win elections. Emulating the systems of authoritarian pseudo-democracies like Russia, Hungary and Turkey, the Republicans want to replace a system of "free and fair" elections (however imperfect those have been in practice) with what experts describe as "competitive authoritarianism" or "managed democracy."

Ultimately, Jan. 6, 2021, was a trial run and a preview of the future, in a country where if Republicans lose the popular vote they clearly intend to resort to illegal and quasi-legal means to obtain, keep and maximize power.

Last Friday, the Republican National Committee finally, and in almost an anti-climactic way, announced who and what it really is. The party's governing body officially censured Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for daring to condemn Trump's coup attempt, and for serving the public interest by sitting on the House committee tasked with investigating those traitorous events. The RNC's official statement described Trump's Jan. 6 attack force as "ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

The Washington Post offered this editorial comment:

Since Jan. 6, 2021, senior party officials have gone from acknowledging Mr. Trump's guilt to punishing those, such as Ms. Cheney, who continue to speak up about a tragedy that no American should forget. It remains to be seen what punishment former vice president Mike Pence will endure following a Friday speech in which he rebuked Mr. Trump's claims that he could have overturned the election on Jan. 6. Republicans assailing Ms. Cheney and siding with Mr. Trump and his lies about the 2020 election are the ones who imperil the republic. By asserting, as their censure resolution did Friday, that truth is fiction and patriots are turncoats, they have exposed the dark, festering core of what their party is becoming: an unruly revolt against fact and reason that betrays the principles leaders, such as former president Ronald Reagan, championed.

The Republican Party has now given its official endorsement for more right-wing political violence, such as we saw last January at the Capitol and since then in various smaller-scale incidents across the country. Predictably, Republican leaders and spokespeople are now deflecting, obfuscating, lying and seeking to deny reality as they claim that their words were taken out of context and they did not exactly mean what they plainly said.

This is a common strategy among extremist political organizations as they pretend to be legitimate partners in the very system of democratic governance they are working to destroy.

At important moments in history, people often do not realize what has taken place and how their collective destinies have been altered. In the middle of such events, it is difficult to see the bigger picture and its true implications. In America, this blindness is amplified by a naïve cultural belief in the country's narrative of inexorable progress, in which history inevitably follows an upward trajectory, rather than meandering, lurching and then falling backward before moving forward again at some point in the future.

Because America's democracy crisis is a type of interregnum, and a collective crisis of meaning the American people are still muddling through it all, desperately trying to search out some kind of clarity or meaning. Those people who are supposed to be the guides — the news media, political elites, "experts", and other public voices — are just as lost because they too are vulnerable to the same forces.

We will look back on last Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, as one such moment — one when things changed even more for the worse in an already broken America, and most Americans were not aware it had happened. On that same day, Donald Trump's fundraising operation sent out this email:

When will it end, Friend?

AT&T, a majority owner of DirecTV, is banning the very popular One America News Network (OAN) because too many people are watching.

I'm calling on all Conservatives to steer clear of DirecTV, and while you're at it, the same goes for "Concast's" [sic] Xfinity as well.

The Liberals have gone too far, and it's time we do something about it. My team is putting together a petition to show the Left that Americans want to hear REAL NEWS, not FAKE NEWS.

I want to get over 1,000,000 signatures from Patriots who are committing to NOT use DirecTV again, which is why I need your help.

Please add your name IMMEDIATELY to commit to NOT using DirecTV and to stand against the Left-wing MOB.
These Radical Left Lunatics are destroying our Nation, and we are better off without them.

I've requested to see the list of Patriots who proudly stand me, and I'll be looking for your name. Don't let me down.

Under the cover of hysterical and imaginary claims of censorship — DirecTV in all probability made a business decision unrelated to ideology — Trump and his spokespeople are encouraging eliminationist violence against their perceived enemies, the imaginary "Left-wing MOB" that is "destroying our Nation."

These are not isolated or random threats. In two recent political rallies Trump has hinted at the possibility of widespread racist violence, directed in particular against Black people. Last Saturday in Conroe, Texas, he called for mass demonstrations in Atlanta, New York and Washington if he is indicted or prosecuted for his many apparent crimes.

Fox News and the larger right-wing propaganda echo chamber have been circulating the white supremacist "Great Replacement" fantasy, which argues that white people are being supplanted in Western society by Black and brown people. These claims are an encouragement to preemptive violence against Black and brown people, Muslims and other perceived undesirables.

For at least the last six years, Donald Trump and the larger neofascist movement behind him have been using the propaganda technique known as stochastic terrorism, in which "dog-whistle" and other coded appeals are used to encourage political violence. In itself, this is nothing new: Stochastic terrorism has been a key feature of right-wing media and the "conservative" movement for several decades.

Emboldened by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, Republican fascists and the larger white right are becoming bolder and less restrained. Their use of stochastic terrorism has now transitioned toward direct threats, and acts, of political violence. As public opinion polls and other research have shown, millions of Republicans and Trump supporters are prepared to support political violence in order to return Trump to power and to protect what they understand as America's "traditional values" (meaning white privilege and white power). An unknown proportion of those people are willing to engage in such violence personally.

Many Trumpists and other neofascists are flying all-black U.S. flags at rallies or outside their homes to signal that they will offer no mercy in a future armed battle against Democrats, liberals, progressives and others deemed to be "un-American."

White supremacist and other neofascist paramilitaries are marching in the streets of major American cities in a campaign of intimidation (and recruitment). Historically Black colleges and universities have been targeted by bomb threats. In an eerie repeat of one of the worst chapters in human history, Republicans and their followers are endorsing book bans — and even staging public book burnings.

Writing at Mother Jones, Mark Follman previewed these developments last year:

Trump has made freshly evident, in other words, that he is serving as the inspirational leader for a domestic terrorism movement. His role as such was first openly described by a handful of leading national security experts in the season of his reelection defeat and tumultuous final months in office. Back then, the discussion centered on Trump using tactics of stochastic terrorism, a method of inciting violence veiled in plausible deniability that those experts (and this journalist) recognized from Trump in the run-up to January 6. … A third longtime Republican, a former senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration, described Trump as "an arsonist of radicalization." …

As the former president further seeks to rewrite January 6 and stoke incendiary far-right grievances, veiled tactics and plausible deniability are no longer in the equation, according to another expert among those last fall who called out Trump's tactics. "So much commentary still seems uncomfortable or coy about stating what Trump is doing," says Juliette Kayyem, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama and currently directs national security research at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "He's not hinting, whistling, or luring these extremists anymore. He's providing an owner's manual. I will never understand why we are being so polite about describing this."

In a recent essay at Salon about Trump's threats of race war, I explored some parallels:

Donald Trump is an entrepreneur of racial and ethnic violence. In that sense, he is not dissimilar to leaders in places like Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, who used fear, lies, stereotypes and other dehumanizing and eliminationist rhetoric and threats of violence to encourage ethnic genocide. Trump has made it clear that he wants a "race war," in which Black and brown people are targeted for wide-scale violence by white people. There may be thousands, or tens of thousands (or even more) of white people willing to follow his orders. The danger is extreme.

When people reach out to me for advice about how to manage their fears about America in this moment of crisis and impending disaster, I suggest that they should read Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart". I also encourage them to consider Achebe's wisdom that: "When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."

In the end, if the current behavior of the American people at large is any indication, they may soon find themselves on the street outside their own house, evicted by suffering as he moves in his friends and family and pretends it was his house all along.

Are the Democrats in trouble? Gallup editor explains why the real story is that Americans hate both parties

Joe Biden has been president for a little over a year and took office in the midst of several historic crises, including the immediate aftermath of a coup attempt by his predecessor and a pandemic that will surely kill more than a million Americans. Yet many among the pundit and political classes are already writing the Biden administration's political epitaph.

Such people have concluded that Biden's bold and transformative domestic policy agenda is a failure, and that the American people are now turning on him. Many are citing inflation as a massive political liability, in an attempt to cast Biden is a 21st-century version of Jimmy Carter afflicted with national malaise and "stagflation." What they conveniently ignore is that Biden's economic growth numbers more closely resemble the "good old days" of Ronald Reagan, circa 1984.

Biden is accused of being aloof, disengaged, overly distant, somehow boring and not compelling, and overly reluctant to be available to the news media (and by implication the American people) because he does not give daily or weekly press conferences.

Historic trends are also highlighted: It is probable that Republicans will take control of the House in this year's midterms, and perhaps the Senate as well. So Biden's failed presidency is seen as preordained. Some prediction markets now indicate that Donald Trump is likely to defeat Biden if they face one another again in 2024.

The narrative of Biden's "failed presidency" is based on public opinion polls showing that his levels of support have fallen to the level of Donald Trump's, or lower, on several occasions. This is taken as proof that the American people have turned against Biden and his policy agenda.

There is a widely-discussed new poll from the Gallup organization that shows a 14-point swing from Democrats to the Republicans, in terms of party identification since January of 2021. By that measure, Republicans enjoy a 5-point advantage over Democrats in the upcoming midterms.

Ignoring considerable evidence to the contrary, many pundits are declaring that Biden is overly "progressive" and has surrendered to "wokeness" and "political correctness." Their proposed solution, of course, is that Biden must pivot back to some imagined middle that will allow him to lure back "independent" and "suburban" voters and members of the "working class."

Reality is more complex. The mainstream media is creating and embracing the narrative of Biden's failure because it fits their predilection for horserace journalism, "both-sides-ism" and a desire for dramatic partisan conflict. Many things are impacting the public assessment of Biden's presidency: the aftermath of the Trump regime, years of mass death, economic insecurity and widespread uncertainty about the future.

Ultimately, it may not matter what the Biden administration actually does. A feeling of doom has taken hold. Hope is running out in this interregnum period. For many Americans, perception becomes reality. Biden's presidency may indeed be in trouble, but not for the reasons that America's pundits and others who police the boundaries of approved public discourse would like to acknowledge.

The real problem is that American democracy and the future of the country are in peril because of the Republican-fascist movement's escalating assaults, and the deep structural problems and other cultural problems that made such a disaster possible.

In an effort to better understand the meaning of Gallup's recent poll, I recently spoke to Gallup senior editor Jeffrey Jones, who oversees research and analyzes Gallup's U.S. polling surveys. In this conversation, Jones offered his interpretation of what these poll results actually tell us about how Americans people feel about Biden, and their relative support for Democrats or Republicans.

He also discussed what public opinion polls can and cannot tell us, and highlighted the growing power of independent voters in American politics. More than anything else, Jones stressed that negative partisanship and other forms of extreme political polarization are damaging democracy. Toward the end of this conversation, he suggested that we should read this new Gallup poll — and other public opinion polls — with an open mind, rather than to validate our preconceived conclusions.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What it is like being a professional who conducts public opinion polls in a moment of such change and crisis?

So many aspects of politics and American society are polarized. We know how Republicans and Democrats are going to rate presidents, for example. So much is dependent now on independents and which way they trend.

Respondents were less influenced by partisanship back in the late 1990s, when I began at Gallup. If the economy was good and the country was at peace, then people had no problem saying they were satisfied with how things were going in the country. Now, because of polarization, people won't really say that if the other political party is in control. They are pretty negative across issues.

Polarization works in the other direction as well, where the party of the president in office, to a large degree, determines whether everything is great or whether obvious problems in the country are minimized when evaluating national conditions.

How is partisan polarization impacting public opinion, specifically, and the country more generally?

The United States as a whole is a centrist, moderate, maybe slightly right-leaning nation. And theoretically, if you want to win elections, that's where you should govern from or appeal to in campaigns. But it seems increasingly that the people who are elected to office emerge from primaries where, to win, a candidate must appeal to the people who are less toward the middle than the country as a whole. Increasingly, it also seems as if voters choose more on candidate party affiliation rather than candidate qualifications, issue positions or experience.

As we have seen in recent congressional elections that have produced turnover in party control, many candidates are elected to national and other high-profile offices as a type of protest vote against the party in power. This is not a mandate — even though many people elected in the last few decades have governed as though they were given one. They were elected largely because people were unhappy with how the other side was governing. The other party is voted into office in response, and then they go off too far in one direction: Bill Clinton in 1994 with health care, George W. Bush with Iraq in 2006, Barack Obama in 2010 with government spending and health care, Donald Trump in 2018 with immigration and other issues and quite possibly Joe Biden in 2020 with government spending programs.

That doesn't mean voters want to go too far in the other direction once the other party gains power. Maybe just stop going too far in the direction the government was going under the old party.

What is it like doing this type of a work in a moment when the United States is experiencing a democracy crisis?

We at Gallup are committed to the independent, neutral, scientific measurement of where the public stands. It is an important input in the democratic process. Elected leaders may take it into account in deciding how to vote on issues, although maybe less so than in the past, with the party loyalty in Congress as strong as it is. Public opinion may also establish certain guardrails that politicians might take into account in determining how far they can go on certain policies, either to represent the views of their constituents, their party or the country more broadly.

How does negative partisanship impact public opinion?

It has really changed how people evaluate the president. The pattern is clear. It is getting more extreme.

We have seen increased polarization in how the public evaluates presidents. But it is not so much among people who support the president's political party — those ratings have always been very high. The change is among those people who are opposed to the president's party.

In decades past, maybe 50% of Republicans would approve of a Democratic president or vice versa. Then it went down to no higher than 30% by the Clinton administration, but now is mainly in the single digits. There is no honeymoon period at all from the opposition party, although as we have seen with Biden and other presidents, independents may give a new president a honeymoon. We are seeing single-digit levels of support for presidents on Day One of their administrations from the opposition party.

There is definitely a ceiling on presidential approval now, where there was not one in the past. That's because the other side is unwilling to approve of a president from the other party.

What can the new Gallup Poll on partisan identification tell us? And what can it not tell us?

This new poll tells us that the American people are responsive to what is going on in the country, and that influences their identification with the two major parties. They give credit and assign blame when things are going well or not going well. For example, at the start of 2021, when Trump was still in office, the COVID situation wasn't going well and Trump was disputing the outcome of the presidential election.

Jan. 6 certainly did not help his standing. Trump's approval rating dropped 12 points from the time of the election. That is the most we've ever seen a presidential approval rating decline after losing an election.

Joe Biden takes office. During the first few months COVID cases began to decline. Biden was getting credit for that, and it was shown through pretty decent approval ratings from independents. In the first quarter, Democrats had their largest advantage on party affiliation since 2012.

Biden's poll numbers started to decline in the summer, as COVID cases rose and the administration struggled to control the pandemic. Democratic affiliation started to erode a little. Then came Afghanistan and now inflation, which caused people to question the competence of Biden and the Democratic Party. The American people were responsive to those issues. Certainly in the polling we saw Biden's approval rating go down. By the fourth quarter, the Democratic advantage in party affiliation had been wiped out and the Republican Party now held a five-point advantage, its largest since 1995.

Public opinion polling cannot go too deeply into people's decision-making processes and why people believe the things they do. Often we are just measuring positive or negative attitudes. That information is still useful. The average person does not have a great deal of information about political matters, and they are not ideologically consistent in their opinions for the most part.

But even what polls reveal about basic favorable or unfavorable, positive or negative, favor or oppose on certain policies gives leaders important information. Even if the average American is not spending four hours a day reading newspapers or watching the news, they do have meaningful opinions that leaders can respond to.

How do we locate this new poll in the larger context of American politics?

One of the big conclusions of the polling results is that the fortunes of political parties — both in terms of whether people identify as supporters of a party or vote for them in elections — are tied to perceptions of how the president is doing. Partly because of party polarization and also widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the country, which has been consistently below 50% since 2004, it seems harder for presidents to get passing grades from the American public. A passing grade would be majority approval.

Presidents with less than majority approval see great losses for their party in Congress in midterm elections, as we have seen in 1994, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and likely 2022. They are also vulnerable to defeat when seeking re-election, as with George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Donald Trump in 2020. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were re-elected, but in relatively close contests. Both had job approval right around 50% when re-elected.

What do we see in the polling regarding divergent perceptions about Jan. 6 and Trump's coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol?

We see a widening party gap in trust in the news media, in particular, and in other U.S. institutions generally. Republicans have very little trust in the news media, so they are unlikely to believe news reports that cast doubt on allegations of a fraudulent or stolen election. If Republicans don't trust the media in general, who do they trust? Republican elected officials, especially Donald Trump, and conservative media that in many cases disputes what the mainstream media is reporting.

People's political realities thus differ based on the type of information they get, and it is hard to forge consensus on the key issues of the day — be it the COVID threat, the health of the economy and the legitimacy of the 2020 election or how elections need to be reformed. That is very concerning for a democracy, where some consensus is important for leaders to agree on which direction to go with policy. Both parties want election reform — but their ideas of what is needed are very different.

We take the data at face value: We seemingly live in two different countries. There is a Republican country and a Democratic country. Democrats believe one thing and Republicans believe the other on many issues.

Now, is that because they have different opinions? Or is it because they do not want to agree with the other side?

Many pundits and other members of the commentariat are obsessed with "independent" voters. What do we actually know about them?

Independents are now the largest political group, whereas in the past it might have been that Democrats, Republicans and independents were roughly even at 30%. We are now at 40% independents. To me that suggests that many Americans are turned off by both parties. We know that many independents lean one way or the other, in terms of Democrat or Republican, and they probably vote that way. Their issue positions are generally consistent with partisan people who identify with the two main parties. If independents vote like partisans and have issue positions that are like partisans, the fact that they won't identify with a party tells us something about how they fell about the parties.

We know that the public's views of both parties are pretty negative. A belief that government is gridlocked is one of the things driving these numbers. We see these numbers primarily from people who are not particularly attached to either party. They are not really upset about who's in office as much as about how the government is working, or not working.

Gallup's new poll showed a 14-point swing in party identification and support from Democrats to Republicans, one of the largest such movements in American political history. What does this actually tell us about the country's political terrain?

Again, that move tells us that the American people are responsive to what is going on in the country. With independents being the largest group, public opinion is not as fixed as it once was. They're the ones who are moving the most. Hardcore Republicans and hardcore Democrats are not going to move that much. This larger group of independents can. On a good day for the Democrats, these leaners might say they're a Democrat. On a bad day, they might say they're an independent. The same is true for Republicans.

We know that the public's views of both parties are pretty negative. A belief that government is gridlocked is one of the things driving these numbers. We see these numbers primarily from people who are not particularly attached to either party. They are not really upset about who's in office as much as about how the government is working, or not working.

Gallup's new poll showed a 14-point swing in party identification and support from Democrats to Republicans, one of the largest such movements in American political history. What does this actually tell us about the country's political terrain?

Again, that move tells us that the American people are responsive to what is going on in the country. With independents being the largest group, public opinion is not as fixed as it once was. They're the ones who are moving the most. Hardcore Republicans and hardcore Democrats are not going to move that much. This larger group of independents can. On a good day for the Democrats, these leaners might say they're a Democrat. On a bad day, they might say they're an independent. The same is true for Republicans.

Much of the movement in partisanship is in and out of the independent category, as opposed to flipping from one side to the other. It is generally true that people do not flip from Republican to Democrat. But people can move in and out of the independent category to the partisan category. That is what I believe we are seeing.

So many inferences and other conclusions are being made from the new Gallup poll, many of which, to my eyes, are incorrect and the result of partisan blinders and other biases.

If people are claiming that we are a Republican country or a Democratic country, they are wrong. Why? Because only about 60%, combined, identify with either party. Independents are the largest group, over 40%, and you can't win elections without them.

Neither party can claim to have the majority of Americans behind them generally. In order to build a majority, you're going to have to appeal to independents and maybe even some from the other party to get elected and have support for your governing policies. I would agree that the United States is probably center-right on some issues. On others, however, the country might be center-left.

t can be hard to figure where the country stands, looking at all the data. When people are asked if they are conservative, moderate or liberal on social issues, they are about equally split. But on a lot of specific moral issues — same-sex marriage, having a baby out of wedlock — they are becoming increasingly liberal. On economic issues the country is more likely to identify as conservative than liberal, but they also support left-leaning specific policies.

What advice would you give about how to understand public opinion data in general, or this poll in particular?

It's to their advantage to read the analysis in an honest and fair way, and to be open to the evidence and findings that do not support their preferred narrative.

It is certainly better to look at multiple polls than a single poll. More data is better. With a single poll, a person might find a question and answer that supports their point of view. But that question may be poorly worded, or there may be other forms of bias in the results. Moreover, if you look at other questions on the topic and they come to different results, that may be where in fact the preponderance of the evidence is. Ultimately, be open to accepting that other people have opinions that might differ from yours. That is fine.

As for the current survey, it is important to remember that party preferences are not fixed for many. As conditions in the country change, things can move pretty quickly, from a large Democratic advantage early in the year to a nearly complete flip by the end of the year. I would add that our most recent polls show the parties at near-parity in terms of party identification, so things may be starting to stabilize, with the two parties about equally strong.

Republicans try to claim MLK as an ally — but if he were here, they'd despise him

Books possess great power. Those who own only a few, yet return to them like old friends for wisdom, comfort and knowledge, or to revisit a special memory, know this to be true. Those of us who have many books — who read and and reread them and carefully compile our collections — know this also.

Our books are a type of biography in themselves, an accounting of our lives. I take my books very seriously. People know not to ask if they can borrow any of my books.

The number of books a person owns reveals little about their understanding of the power of literacy and books. For too many people who have huge libraries, the whole project is one of social signaling and bourgeois habitus.

One of my most personally important books is an early edition of "The Black Book." This landmark work was edited by Middleton A. Harris, Ernest Smith, Morris Levitt and Roger Furman, with a foreword by Toni Morrison. My mother purchased "The Black Book" for a community college course and wanted to make sure that I read it. I was seven or eight years old at the time.

All these years later is sits prominently on a bookshelf that I walk by many times each day. If there was a fire, I would grab my "Black Book," along with a handful of other prized possessions, as I ran out the door.

My copy of "The Black Book" is old, tattered and yellowing. Several pages are missing. The book has no monetary value. Its power and value cannot be measured in such terms. "The Black Book" reinforced for its readers that we, Black Americans and others of the Black diaspora, have a history and experience as a people that white supremacy, the white gaze and white power in its many forms could not erase.

Beyond important historical facts, narratives and other information, "The Black Book" (and other work in that tradition and spirit) served as a kind of shield against the many big and small lies of white supremacy and white racism that can diminish and crush the way Black folks (and other people of color) imagine their own possibilities and reality — and this remains true decades after the civil rights movement.

In many ways, America was built on white supremacist lies about Black and brown people. Those lies have not been exorcised; they still have great power and many people believe them today. The social institutions those lies helped create and legitimate still exist. The Jim Crow Republicans and other neofascists are empowered by racist and white supremacist lies.

On this holiday weekend set aside to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Freedom Struggle, Republicans and other "conservatives" will deploy their racist and white supremacist lies (as they have done for decades) to diminish the meaning of Dr. King's struggle and sacrifice

According to their deranged worldview, Dr. King is a Reagan Republican and Christian nationalist, and a neoliberal gangster capitalist who supports deregulation, privatization and gun culture. This alternate reality version of Dr. King also stands against "wokeness" and "Black Lives Matter." His legacy has been "stolen," we are told, by the Democrats and the "Black establishment" as a means to "oppress" the Black community. Moreover, the Democratic Party is a "plantation," and Dr. King's memory and legacy are being used by Democrats, liberals and "Black elites" to keep Black Americans "mentally enslaved" and "not thinking for themselves."

This white supremacist disinformation campaign is part of a much larger, and in fact global, fascist project meant to convince white Americans that they are the "real" victims of racism and that simultaneously they are losing "their country" — a country where they control every dominant social, political, economic and cultural institution.

Public opinion polls and other research have consistently shown that agreement with such values and beliefs is heavily predictive of support for and allegiance to Donald Trump, the Republican Party and the larger white right.

As expected, the Republican fascists and their allies and agents are using Dr. King's life and legacy as one of the newest weapons in their moral panic over "critical race theory." The true goal of this assault on reality is to make it illegal to teach the real history of American racism and the color line.

The real Martin Luther King Jr. — as opposed to the de-radicalized, deracinated, distorted, whitewashed and commodified figure now used to sell all manner of consumer goods, was a civil rights leader, a hope warrior and a martyr. He was also a democratic socialist. The real Dr. King opposed militarism and nationalism. He stood with the powerless and oppressed against the powerful. He supported affirmative action, reparations for white-on-Black chattel slavery and Jim Crow, a guaranteed minimum income and other substantive material and other attempts to ameliorate America's long history of injustice against Black Americans and other people of color. The real King supported social democracy.

The real Martin Luther King Jr. would without a doubt have supported the scholarly framework known as critical race theory and its conclusions about inequality and America's social and political institutions. The real Martin Luther King Jr. would have stood firm against the forces of Trumpism, American neofascism, white supremacy, and the white right and "conservative" movement more broadly. Leaders of those movements would have found him an implacable enemy.

At the time of his assassination, King was one of the most unpopular major figures in the United States — as he would be today, were he were alive. Many white liberals and "moderates" would view him with mistrust and disdain for speaking too much truth about their complicity with white supremacy and other forms of injustice.

In 1963, Dr. King wrote in his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail":

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the White moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice.

This is the second Martin Luther King Jr. holiday since Donald Trump and his Republican fascists attempted a coup on Jan. 6, 2021, with the ultimate goal of terminating America's multiracial democracy.

Last year, I wrote the following here at Salon about Dr. King, Jan. 6, and America's imperiled democracy:

The real Dr. King would demand that substantive justice be done and that Donald Trump, his coup plotters, enablers and foot soldiers, and those others who participated in a lethal attack on the Capitol be held accountable. Such an outcome is not vengeance; it is justice.
Dr. King, who was a product of the Black Christian prophetic tradition of resistance and love and social justice, said this: "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning."
He also said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
As the crimes of the Age of Trump are investigated and punishments meted out, the American people would be wise to heed Dr. King's wisdom. We have ignored it far too long.

One year later, where are we? The answer is that matters are more dire. America is in a moment of interregnum, with fascism and white supremacy in the ascendant. Republican fascists and their movement are threatening a second civil war and terrorist insurgency. Republicans will likely regain control of Congress after the midterm elections this November, and could well retake the presidency as well in 2024. Donald Trump and his cabal have yet to be punished for their crimes against the Constitution and the rule of law, and to all appearances never will be.

In this moment of democracy crisis, America needs hope warriors and other freedom fighters who are prepared for a long struggle, one in which the pendulum will swing between hope and despair, optimism and nightmares, terror and elation many times over.

In a 2012 interview, theologian James Cone reflected on what could be learned from Dr. King and Malcolm X about such struggles:

But as long as people have hope, they struggle. If they only have nightmare, if they only have despair, they won't struggle. So, even in Malcolm you got hope, because you wouldn't have him articulating so strongly, so powerfully unless there was hope in the articulation itself. So, while King expresses the hope, he also articulates despair too. King and Malcolm have each other in each other and that's true of all groups who are struggling for justice. You have one group that's going to emphasize the negative side and one that's going to emphasize the positive side, but both have both. Because it ain't all positive and King knew that — that's why he was fighting. And it ain't all negative, Malcolm knew that, that's why he was talking. Otherwise, he wouldn't be talking to his people if there was not hope, if they, through his discourse, wouldn't be empowered about the situation in which they found themselves in.

With his prophetic wisdom and vision, Dr. King warned us that America could be destroyed by racism, white supremacy and other societal ills. As our democracy weakens even further day by day, his prophecy looks to be coming true in real time.

The arc of the moral universe may indeed be long, but the challenge is this: Do the American people have the will at this time to bend it more fully towards democracy and justice, in what will likely be a decades-long battle against fascism and white supremacy? Or have too many Americans already surrendered, before the battle has even been joined?

The Jan. 6 anniversary: How the media failed — and still can't admit it

It is difficult if not impossible to solve a problem when one lacks the language to properly describe and understand it. That problem is made worse if the language is available but people refuse to use it.

In the Age of Trump, too many members of the American mainstream news media and the larger political class have either forgotten or never learned that commonsense wisdom.

In a recent interview with historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, bestselling author and intelligence expert Malcolm Nance described this situation:

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow recently tweeted that we're in collective denial. That we are standing on the precipice. That the American experiment is about to end. I have been screaming this from the rooftops.
As for the news media, they're not like ostriches with their heads in the sand. They are literally living a pie-in-the-sky life where, if you live in New York City and Donald Trump does horrible things, the bodega still has flowers. You can still go and get a sandwich in 2 in the morning. You can still get an Uber. It's almost like we would require to have the American version of the Blitz occur.
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia. And one of the first things I learned about in my early tweens period was the Holocaust. I have twice been invited to speak at Auschwitz, and at the last conference I went to, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was questioning whether the world was going back into an authoritarian era where we could see pogroms again.
I've watched this happen in other countries and I see the dominoes start to fall over in my own country. I think we are in a very dangerous state. We have 10 months to wake up because the November 2022 elections will determine whether America descends rapidly into authoritarianism and quite possibly dictatorship.
America's mainstream news media bears a great amount of responsibility for the Age of Trump and the country's escalating democracy crisis. Instead of consistently sounding the alarm and warning the American people and the world about the existential threat represented by Donald Trump and his movement, for years the mainstream media chose to normalize it.

When the prominent voices among the country's mainstream news media finally admitted to themselves the reality of how dangerous Trump and his neofascist movement were and are, it was already too late. The fascist tide was rising uncontrollably.

Despite all available evidence to the contrary, America's mainstream news media and other trusted public voices were committed to the fiction that once Joe Biden was president somehow everything would be OK. In their minds, "normalcy" and "tradition" would bring the madness of Trump and his political cult to heel. Of course the events of Jan. 6 and beyond exposed those childish fantasies as the hollow hopes and dreams common to elites in a failing democracy.

The one-year anniversary of Jan. 6 was marked by hundreds (if not thousands) of thinkpieces, personal essays, reflections, news items and reporting of various kinds. But in the aggregate, what was not said or written about Jan. 6 was arguably more important than what was said and written.

The word "fascism" was, for the most part, not used. In essence, the most powerful and accurate language to describe Trumpism and the threat to democracy it represents was erased from America's public discourse in these discussions. This is congruent with the fact that "fascism" was not broadly or consistently used by the mainstream news media during Trump's presidency. "Authoritarianism" is sometimes used, which may be accurate but is unspecific, or the even vaguer term "populism."

The terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol is still frequently described as a "riot," when in reality that event was instigated and announced weeks if not months earlier, and to a significant degree was planned and coordinated rather than spontaneous.

Trump's attack force is often described as "insurrectionists," as opposed to a blunter term such as "terrorists" or "traitors." The words "cabal" and "conspiracy" were hardly used at all to describe those who planned the attack.

In reality, the Trump regime and its agents, across the country and on all levels of government, worked to overthrow America's multiracial democracy by nullifying the 2020 presidential election and installing Donald Trump as de facto dictator. Evidence of these criminal acts continues to grow on a daily and weekly basis.

By almost all definitions and commonsense understandings, the Trump regime and its forces were a cabal involved in a conspiracy against American democracy, one intended to subvert the Constitution and the rule of law, and to defy the will of the American people. When the mainstream media refuses to use such language with any consistency, it downplays the dire and ongoing threat that the Republican fascist movement and the larger white right represent.

Donald Trump's neofascist Republican Party and personality cult, the current American "conservative" movement and the larger white right are part of a global campaign to secure permanent white (male) power and privilege and control over all aspects of life. If they achieve their goals here in America, multiracial democracy would be effectively dead. The rights and freedoms of a large majority of the population — women, nonwhite people, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities, Muslims, Jews, the poor, non-Christians and whoever else is deemed to be the Other — would be rolled back or extinguished.

Jan. 6, 2021, was a landmark moment in this revolutionary-reactionary struggle for world domination. Instead of properly locating Trump's coup attempt in that context, the American mainstream news media continues to describe it as mostly an isolated event. Where were the critical self-reflections, self-recriminations and apologies for the mainstream media's many failures during the Age of Trump, as crystallized on that day a year ago? I saw few examples that would qualify.

Perhaps even more troubling, the media continues to use a narrative frame of "surprise" and "shock" to describe Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol. I described this in a previous essay for Salon:

Yet a full year after Trump's coup attempt, many members of the chattering class and the commentariat — the vast majority of whom are white — still describe the events of that day as "unimaginable," "unbelievable" or "shocking." Such language, and such patterns of thought, reveal a deep unwillingness to grapple with and accept the truth about American's centuries-long history of white-on-Black (and white-on-brown) political violence.
Too many of these public voices have chosen to remain ignorant of their own country's history, and in doing so have passed along that ignorance to the very public they supposedly serve. This denial also explains why so many members of the media and political class refuse to comprehend the existential threat to American democracy represented by Republican fascists and the larger right-wing movement.
To properly confront the origins and implications of Trump and the Republican fascists' assault on democracy would demand an interrogation of white privilege and white identity — and asking hard questions about the relationship between what it means to be "American" and what it means to be "white." Such questions require disrupting and challenging the big and little lies that sustain whiteness as an identity, and the assumption that those who embrace it are inherently good, noble and innocent

What of the right-wing propaganda disinformation machine and echo chamber? Its propagandists and professional liars chose either to ignore the Jan. 6 anniversary or to process the Capitol attack through the Big Lie as a story of white victimhood and white oppression, where white Trumpist "patriots" are now "political prisoners" or even "martyrs" in a war against the "tyrannical" Joe Biden, the "socialist" Democrats and the monstrous forces of "wokeness." Ultimately, Jan. 6 will become a rallying cry and symbol used to encourage more right-wing political violence and, in all probability, a second coup attempt in the future.

As if succumbing to an addiction, some leading national publications defaulted to the obsolescent and dangerous habit of using "both sides" language, describing the events of Jan. 6 and the escalating attacks on American democracy by the Republican-fascist movement and its agents as evidence of a "divided nation" or "polarization" between "blue" and "red" realities. Some mainstream media outlets even featured contributions from Trump enablers and other fascist sympathizers, in search of "balance" and the need for a "range of opinions."

That is a symptom of a much bigger problem: Throughout the Age of Trump, the mainstream media has largely avoided stating the plain facts: It is the Republican fascists and their white supremacist movement that are committed to overthrowing democracy. That attack is unidirectional; the Democrats are attempting to protect democracy (however ineffectively), not destroy it.

The media's task should have been (and continues to be) making complex issues more legible, empowering the American people to make better and more responsible decisions about democracy, speaking with moral clarity, and consistently telling uncomfortable truths about the rise of neofascism and the existential threat it represents. Going forward, that task has become even more urgent if the forces of neofascism are to be defeated, in this country and around the world.

A recent opinion column at the Arizona Republic summarized this:

Rarely in our history have the lines between right and wrong been so evident — and rarely has it been so incumbent upon journalism to make those lines clear. Yes, there are stories that are best told by presenting readers, viewers and listeners the facts and letting them make up their minds. We report, you decide, or whatever the old wink-and-a-nod Fox News slogan was.
This is not one of them.
Think back to Jan. 6. Think of the hours after the attack began. Think of darkness falling on a chilly day in Washington, D.C. Think of the eerie lights of the Capitol set against that encroaching darkness — and the silhouettes of the mob that had forced its way in, intent on doing damage and maybe worse. Think of how that felt.
Now think of the responsibility it demands.
We have learned, in the last year, a lot about how dangerous to democracy the Jan. 6 attack really was — even more dangerous than we thought. We have learned more about Trump's involvement and reaction.
A lot of that we've learned through good journalism. We will continue to learn more. Some people will ignore the facts laid out in front of them. OK. Some readers will disagree. So will some viewers. OK. No business sets out to lose customers, but this is more important. This is at the core of what journalism does. This is telling the truth, and if people don't listen, tell it louder. Then tell it again.
Journalists shouldn't do this work as if their jobs depended on it. They should do it as if the country depended on it. Because it does.

My expectations are less hopeful. As Republicans and their allies cement more control over American government and society — likely regaining Congress in the 2022 midterms and perhaps the White House in 2024 — many members of the establishment news media (especially Beltway-style "access journalists") will choose to collaborate with the new political order. They will justify their decision through various mental gymnastics: They did this for reasons of "survival" or "safety," or to provide a "voice of reason" and serve as a "conduit for truth." For the more honest, it will be clear they made a mercenary decision, in search of money, career advancement, social capital and prestige.

In the end, those members of the news media and other elites who are not telling the truth about Jan. 6, the Republican fascists and America's democracy crisis now, when it's relatively easy to do so, certainly will not do so later, when it becomes much more difficult and dangerous. How those with public voices chose to speak about the Jan. 6 anniversary offers a preview of what they will say and do later, as democracy crumbles and the Republican fascists seize power.

We're still trapped in a bad fascist-coup movie — and it's heading toward a dark anticlimax

Just over a year ago, Donald Trump and his allies tried to stage a coup against American democracy. This was something new in American history, but in another sense it was typical: It was the next stage in the collapse of a failing democracy.

As I explained in an earlier essay for Salon, the Trump coup attempt was quite "unique" in that it was publicly announced years in advance and organized in plain sight, with more than enough warning that it could have easily been stopped from occurring. In practical terms, many members of America's political class, news media and other elites allowed the coup attempt to take place, either through negligence or tacit consent.

Trump's attempt to overthrow American democracy (which continues) is atypical in another important way: In the year since Jan. 6, 2021, the American people and the world have learned a great deal about almost every aspect of Trump's coup plot and the Capitol attack.

In her newsletter Lucid, historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat recently explained many of the central or common factors involved in coup attempts, whether successful or otherwise. She begins with the observation that "controlling the flow of information" is crucial, especially when the coup fails and damage control is necessary:

Coups involve secrecy and speed. Their power lies in the element of surprise — the shock of the unthinkable happening, and happening fast. ... The conspiratorial element of coups means we are not often privy to the details of their planning. If the coup is successful, it may become part of the origin story of the new national collective. Then a leader may release details about it to enhance his reputation for daring and bravery. This was the case with Muammar Gaddafi, who planned his 1969 coup for years and was its undisputed author.
What if the leader who comes to power via coup was the last person to come on board, either because of his cautious nature (Francisco Franco) or because the coup's instigators did not fully trust him (Augusto Pinochet)? Then it can take a long time for the truth to come out….
When coups fail, the government that survived the coup attempt might release information in order to turn public opinion against the plotters and justify whatever punishments are meted out.

Many questions remain unanswered about the Trump regime's attempt to overthrow American democracy. If we hope to save American democracy and ensure some measure of justice is served, the truth will need to be revealed. At some point in the future, the House Jan. 6 special committee, various whistleblowers, Department of Justice investigations, journalists, documentarians, scholars and other researchers will have compiled something close to a full accounting of the Trump regime's coup attempt.

That's an entirely separate question from whether Donald Trump and the high-level planners and plotters of his coup will ever face proper accountability or punishment for their crimes against democracy. The answer to that question is probably not.

In all, a type of surreality and malignant normalcy took hold over America during the Age of Trump, and its hold has endured into Joe Biden's presidency. The events of Jan. 6 were the middle act in a much bigger story that now includes the Big Lie, a feeling of impending doom emanating from the Republican fascist movement, the growing threat of sustained right-wing violence or even low-level civil war, and our status as a society where reality, facts and truth are no longer agreed upon because the Republicans and their enablers have undermined any such consensus.

In so many ways, Jan. 6 and the Age of Trump have shattered the myths that many Americans have long entertained about themselves and their country.

Those myths and narratives come from many sources, but America is a society where the dream merchants and fantasy manufacturers of Hollywood (and the mass media more generally) exercise almost unlimited power to shape the collective imagination of the public. The result is that Americans, for decades, "have been amusing themselves to death". Too many of us have lost the capacity to distinguish mass media fantasies (including online and other digital spaces) from reality and its painful truths.

To wit. On Jan. 6 of last year, there were no Special Forces commandos, Secret Service assault teams or FBI hostage rescue units making a dramatic assault on the Capitol Building — as would have happened in a Hollywood movie — ready to fight off Trump's terrorist mob and keep the members of Congress and other innocent people safe from harm.

Instead, it was rank-and-file Capitol police officers and other members of law enforcement who exemplified great courage in attempting to do that dangerous work. They were understaffed and unprepared, and ultimately could not keep Trump's rage-fueled attack force from breaching the building's defenses and running amok in an apparent hunt for Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other perceived enemies.

In the real world, there was no national leader who rose to the occasion, placing Trump and his cabal under arrest, delivering a rousing speech about the true values of American democracy and perhaps declaring the sixth of January as a new national holiday, a second Independence Day.

This was not "Seven Days in May" or some other Cold War-era thriller featuring a seemingly perfect plot to overthrow the government, only stopped by the actions of a few courageous souls. There was no moment on Jan. 6 or afterward when "principled" Republicans joined en masse with Democrats to save American democracy by denouncing Trump, his cabal and their movement, and unmasking the full scale of the coup plot.

In reality, Republicans in the House, only hours after the coup attempt, still voted to nullify the 2020 presidential election, standing with the coup leader and against legitimate democracy.

There have been no televised trials or hearings about the Trump regime's coup attempt, and no serious efforts to punish the wrongdoers to the maximum extent of the law. There has been no closure, no public exhalation of relief and no sense that the coup was conclusively defeated. The threat from Trump and his movement is escalating, and the coup has not been stopped: If anything, it is gaining momentum on the state and local level. Republicans will likely win control of the House this fall, and could well win the Senate as well. A return to the White House in 2024 is distinctly possible. If Republicans cannot use voter exclusion and other Jim Crow-style anti-democratic tactics to win that election, they may launch another coup — and that one will be far more likely to succeed.

Consider the fascinating and, at times, undeniably entertaining characters of TrumpWorld. Donald Trump himself is a reality TV star and pro wrestling "heel" who somehow became president. He has surrounded himself with other characters straight from central casting, including corrupt consigliere Roger Stone and "America's mayor" Rudy Giuliani, now a grossly incompetent go-between and a legal adviser of dubious skill and wisdom.

It's easy to laugh, but we cannot overlook those smart and very dangerous foes of democracy such as Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Stephen Miller, John Eastman, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and numerous others. There are also the lesser-known true believers and ideologues who lurk in the shadows of think tanks, interest groups, academia, business and finance, the news media, right-wing evangelical churches, paramilitaries and "tactical culture," military and veterans groups, and elsewhere in the private sector and the world of public policy and consulting.

In total, Jan. 6 and its anticlimactic outcome offer a portrait of American society seemingly filtered not through Hollywood blockbusters but through the artistic visions of Jim Jarmusch, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet and John Schlesinger. But none of this is a movie the American people can switch off or walk away from. It is entirely too real. Denial, exhaustion, learned helplessness or just flat-out surrender can offer no salvation.

The ridiculous and surreal aspects of Jan. 6 and its aftermath do nothing to diminish the peril America now faces. Indeed, fascism and other forms of civic evil do their work by making the unthinkable, the ridiculous and the seemingly impossible appear both normal and acceptable. We are almost there now. Jan. 6 was just one important landmark on that journey.

Many Americans are blithely ignoring the dire warning signs of fascism's rise

In America (and around the world) the year 2021 was one of great sadness and frustration. By many indications, 2022 may be even worse.

America's democracy crisis continues to escalate. The alarm is blaring but the American people, for the most part, continue to ignore it. Last Jan. 6, Donald Trump and his regime attempted a coup with the goal of nullifying the results of the 2020 presidential election and, in effect, ending American democracy. In many respects, Trump's coup attempt was atypical, if not wholly unique.

It was publicly announced by Donald Trump and his agents months or even years in advance. Despite those warnings, law enforcement officials and national security leaders did little to prepare for it. Most of the mainstream news media and pundit class did not take the threat seriously, instead choosing to mock those truth-tellers who kept sounding the alarm.

Nearly a year after the attack, Donald Trump and the other high-level planners and conspirators have not been punished, and remain free to continue plotting the overthrow of American democracy. As has been widely observed, the Trump regime's coup attempt may be the least-punished such high crime in recent history.

Even Trump's foot soldiers have not been punished to the full extent of the law for their participation in the Capitol attack. While some have faced prosecution, the Justice Department has acted with great restraint.

Some "good news": Donald Trump's coup attempt was an example of what experts on authoritarianism and democracy describe as an attempt at an "autocratic breakthrough." Most democracies quickly fall before such assaults. This one was repelled, which is something of a unique accomplishment.

In other ways, the Trump regime's coup attempt was not so unusual. As in other places and times in history, Trump's loyalists are continuing with their efforts, both through more or less legal means and otherwise. When a coup fails the first time, the second attempt is usually successful. All of this is happening in real time and in plain sight, with minimal attempt at deception. For the American people and their responsible leaders to ignore such threats is a willful choice.

What warnings should we be heeding now? In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, retired U.S. Army generals Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba and Steven M. Anderson are sounding the alarm about the possibility of a second civil war in the aftermath of a future presidential election, if Donald Trump or another Republican refuses to accept the results:

We — all of us former senior military officials — are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk….
Imagine competing commanders in chief — a newly reelected Biden giving orders, versus Trump (or another Trumpian figure) issuing orders as the head of a shadow government. Worse, imagine politicians at the state and federal levels illegally installing a losing candidate as president.
All service members take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. But in a contested election, with loyalties split, some might follow orders from the rightful commander in chief, while others might follow the Trumpian loser. Arms might not be secured depending on who was overseeing them. Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.
In this context, with our military hobbled and divided, U.S. security would be crippled. Any one of our enemies could take advantage by launching an all-out assault on our assets or our allies.

This is but the most recent in a series of public warnings by America's senior national security leadership, both before and after Jan. 6, about the spiraling danger of a new civil war, a right-wing insurgency and other forms of terrorism and political violence. Such warnings are without precedent in modern American history and highlight the extreme peril the country now faces from the Republican fascist movement.

It has also been reported that military leaders were seriously concerned that Trump might order the National Guard to intervene on his behalf on or around Jan. 6 by invoking the Insurrection Act. If he had given such an order, the country would have come dangerously closer to an authoritarian takeover and perhaps widespread violence, with elements of the military battling one another. Experts on civil war have warned that the U.S. is well along such a path.

Domestic terrorism experts have also warned that right-wing extremists and paramilitary groups are organizing on the local and state level to intimidate, harass and target "liberals," Black and brown people, Muslims, Jews, immigrant communities and others deemed to be their enemies. This is part of a nationwide campaign by Republican fascists and the larger white right to attack American democracy on the local and state level in order to facilitate Trump's return to power (or the "election" of his designated successor).

It is reasonable to feel angry about the American people's apparent passivity in the face of these obvious threats against democracy. But the more important question is why they are responding that way, and what that tells us about the health of American democracy and political culture? In essence, why do so many people simply not care?

There are many explanations. Most Americans do not follow politics closely. They also do understand it very well. As we approach the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, opinion polls show that fewer people are paying attention to the investigation into those events.

This is not, in itself, surprising. A large percentage of Americans, if not a majority, do not closely follow the news. At least half the population cannot read at a sixth-grade level. The average American's understanding of politics also ebbs and flows, most obviously in response to shared crises or calamities, but also in response to those events that the news media and leading political figures focus on most intensely. In this case, if the Democrats and others who support democracy do not consistently highlight the existential threat posed by the Republican-fascist movement, then most Americans will not pay attention.

American voters are also strikingly poor at attributing responsibility to the correct political leaders or parties for their policy failures. Most people receive information about current events from a trusted network that may include friends, relatives, community leaders, clergy members, favored politicians and media voices and, increasingly, social media such as Facebook or Instagram. Such a network is likely to be insular and inaccurate, serving as a type of echo chamber — especially for Republicans and "conservatives."

In an era of extreme right-wing asymmetrical polarization and negative partisanship, disinformation and a coordinated assault on truth and reality, as well as an overall culture of spectacle, unrestrained consumerism, cruelty and endless distraction, many Americans lack the capacity to make informed and responsible political and social decisions.

A large percentage of Americans believe (quite correctly) that the country's political elites and other leaders have failed in their responsibilities to society and are increasingly detached from the experiences of everyday Americans. This reflects a 60-year trend of declining faith and trust in the country's leaders and the legitimacy of "the system."

There is also a worrisome decline in the American people's faith in democracy itself, especially among younger people. A recent poll by Grinnell College offers additional context about the deep political and cultural divides that are driving the country's democracy crisis:

The poll shows incredibly few Americans (7%) have high trust in the federal government to offer good ideas to solve problems facing their communities. Even among Democrats, whose party currently holds the White House and the majority in both houses of Congress, only 14% say they have high trust in the federal government.
Americans were somewhat more likely to have high trust in state governors (25%) and city or county elected leaders (19%) to offer good ideas to solve problems in their communities. In both cases, only a minority of Americans had high trust in elected officials.

"Trust in political institutions is the glue that holds democracies together and allows them to weather crises over time," said Grinnell political scientist Danielle Lussier. "While there will always be some skepticism toward the government, when a majority of people express distrust in elected officials, the legitimacy of the constitutional order is called into question."

Further analysis reveals the depth of partisan division: While doctors, scientists and teachers are highly trusted by Democratic voters, "among Republicans, doctors are highly trusted by only 48%, scientists by 28%, and teachers by 31%. Republicans place high trust in police officers (65%) but only 22% of Democrats have that same level of trust."

"Americans lack a collective sense of whom to trust," Lussier said, which "helps to explain why it is so hard to build a consensus for solving the country's problems."

Perhaps most important of all, for at least the last 50 years right-wing libertarians and other extremists have advanced a strategy to undermine faith in American democracy and the idea of government itself. This has created a space for right-wing political entrepreneurs to expand their power and influence by convincing large portions of the white American public that democratic government is illegitimate if it does not secure continued white supremacy.

In total, Americans are collectively experiencing a moment of social and political alienation, in which many of their fellow citizens are willingly surrendering to the forces of demobilization and authoritarianism.

Philosopher and political theorist Sheldon Wolin described such a moment in his book "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism":

Antidemocracy does not take the form of overt attacks upon the idea of government by the people. Instead, politically it means encouraging what I have earlier dubbed "civic demobilization," conditioning an electorate to being aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy. The intense pace of work and the extended working day, combined with job insecurity, is a formula for political demobilization, for privatizing the citizenry. It works indirectly. Citizens are encouraged to distrust their government and politicians; to concentrate upon their own interests; to begrudge their taxes; and to exchange active involvement for symbolic gratifications of patriotism, collective self-righteousness, and military prowess. Above all, depoliticization is promoted through society's being enveloped in an atmosphere of collective fear and of individual powerlessness: fear of terrorists, loss of jobs, the uncertainties of pension plans, soaring health costs, and rising educational expenses.

Ultimately, who is to blame for the American public's passivity in the face of an escalating neofascist threat? Of course Republicans and other members of the "conservative" movement are the most clearly guilty. President Biden and the other leaders of the Democratic Party and the "liberal" or "centrist" leadership class are also responsible, to the degree they did not rapidly identify the threat and respond accordingly.

Right-wing libertarians and neoliberal gangster capitalists, who for years have longed who to destroy the commons and social democracy in order to create a society where profits rule over people in all areas of life, are also responsible. They weakened the social fabric to such an extent that it was much easier for neofascism to take root.

However this dark chapter in American history concludes, and whatever the next chapter may hold, there will be many Americans (largely white people in the privileged classes) who will exclaim in all sincerity: How could such a thing have happened? Are we not better than this?

The answer to such questions will stare back at them from the mirror every morning -- and even then they will deny responsibility.

White supremacist Christmas: Those Boebert and Massie 'gun photos' are a direct threat

Thomas Massie and Lauren Boebert, two of the most blatantly fascistic Republican members of Congress, are dreaming of a White Christmas — with the emphasis on "White."

In the spirit of holiday cheer, Massie and Boebert recently shared family Christmas photos on social media — in which every family member is brandishing a gun. There's nothing unique about them. Such a "tradition" is fairly common among a particular subculture of American gun fetishists and "ammosexuals." This is but another symptom of America's unhealthy infatuation with gun violence.

Many responses to Boebert and Massie's Christmas cards from the mainstream media and other public voices have struck typical notes of performative outrage and disgust. There have been complaints that Massie and Boebert's behavior is not that of "good Christians." There was anger at the timing: Both photos were posted on social media within days of a mass shooting in Michigan, in which a 15-year-old boy allegedly killed four of his classmates and injured eight more.

That should not be understood as a coincidence: The Boebert and Massie photos were intentional provocations, demonstrating cruel indifference toward the victims of gun violence, as well as their families and communities.

Others used this episode to point at these two far-right members of Congress as illustrations of how deranged and cartoonish today's Republican Party has become.

Those reactions are valid in their own terms. But they are also examples of looking but not truly seeing — that is, of failing to understand the message and meaning being communicated in Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos.

Fascism, as an ideology and movement, is contradictory, often incoherent and difficult for outsiders to understand. That is one of its greatest powers. Fascism arouses emotions of shock and anger among its targets and enemies, producing confusion and uncertainty in terms of assessing the danger.

In this moment, we can see the corrosive effects of the Big Lie, along with the many smaller ones that create an alternate reality for its followers. Fascism attacks normal society in many ways, with the aim of overwhelming people and rendering them helpless.

Too many people in democracies assaulted by fascism choose to hide behind denial, mockery, defensive humor and contempt. It is much easier to make fun of fascists for their evident absurdity than to confront them directly.

Understood in that light, the Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos are revealed as examples of stochastic terrorism, and a specific threat of Christian fascist violence.

In an essay published at Salon, journalist and bestselling author Chris Hedges explained the growth of Christian fascism in America:

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters….
These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" I was deadly serious about the term "fascists."…
Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian "values." This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own.

Religion professor Anthea Butler's insights on the specific phenomenon she calls "White Christianity" are also helpful here. In a recent interview with Salon, she described its basic tenets: "Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society. White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty."

Massie and Boebert's Christmas cards, with their heavily armed families, signify white conservatives' imagined exclusive right to commit lethal violence, especially when directed against Black or brown people, Muslims, Jews, nonwhite immigrants, Democrats, liberals, progressives, left-wing activists or any other group deemed to be the enemy of "real America."

Massie and Boebert's family Christmas pictures are also public statements directed at a broad audience. In an interview with a right-wing talk show, Massie explained his family photo this way: "I crossed guns with family and Christmas, and those are three things that really could trigger the leftists, and I didn't realize that it would be such an explosive cocktail when you put it together. But it adds up to freedom."

In these photographs, white identity politics manifest in the form of an "ideal" or "traditional" family, as envisioned by white Christian conservatives. In the white supremacist fantasies and conspiracy theories mainstreamed during the Age of Trump, large white families of that kind are understood to be a counterweight against the "browning of America" or the "great replacement."

Massie is presented in his family Christmas photo as a patriarch; his wife and children are depicted as as obedient and subservient to his authority and power.

Boebert's Christmas photo depicts a somewhat different archetype: the "mama bear" defending her "cubs." In the absence of their father or other adult males, Boebert is implicitly shown as teaching her sons to become "defenders" of their (white) home and (white) community.

The gun serves as the unifying symbol in these images. In America, the gun is historically a representation of white male power endorsed by God and passed down across generations from father to son. The power of the gun can be shared with the wife and daughters when necessary, but it is fundamentally an object of white male authority and as such is associated with sexuality, family, property, race, gender, patriotism and nationalism.

In his family photo, Thomas Massie is holding an M60 light machine gun. That weapon carries specific symbolic weight in the American popular imagination -- especially on the right. The M60 is an iconic weapon of the Vietnam War (and the Cold War era more generally) and was featured prominently in the "Rambo" movies and other action films of the 1970s and '80s. Along with other firearms such as the AR-15 and M-16 — often described as "freedom rifles" or "modern-day muskets" by right-wing paramilitaries and members of the "Patriot" movement — the M60 is an especially potent symbol of militant white Christianity.

In her recent book "Jesus and John Wayne," historian Kristen Kobes Du Mez discusses the "distinctive vision of evangelical masculinity" promoted by right-wing Christian media:

Finding comfort and courage in symbols of a mythical past, evangelicals looked to a rugged, heroic masculinity that was embodied by cowboys, soldiers, and warriors to point the way forward. For decades to come, military masculinity (and a sweet, submissive femininity) would remain entrenched in the evangelical imagination, shaping conceptions of what was good and true….
While dominant, the evangelical cult of masculinity does not define the whole of American evangelicalism. It is largely the creation of white evangelicals. The vast majority of books on evangelical masculinity have been written by white men primarily for white men. To a significant degree, the markets for literature on black and white Christian manhood remain distinct. With few exceptions, black men, Middle Eastern men, and Hispanic men are not called to a wild, militant masculinity. Their aggression, by contrast, is seen as dangerous, a threat to the stability of home and nation.

Viewed in a larger societal context, Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos stand as a declaration of "white freedom" and white power. Consider the simple comparison: If a Black or Muslim or Latino family had created those images, Republicans, their propagandists and a large proportion of white America would have responded in outrage and panic over the perceived threat of crime and terrorism.

Instead, we have Christmas as a celebration of fascism, and a spectacle in the white-identity culture war against America's multiracial democracy.

When I was a child, my family did not pose with guns on Christmas Day. We favored music by Motown artists and other soul and R&B singers. My mother insisted on a few gospel tunes, and my father obliged. When it was time to open the gifts, I had the "honor" of playing The Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album. But our mainstays were songs by Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls, Eartha Kitt, the Jackson 5, Otis Redding and others such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Santa Baby," "Merry Christmas Baby," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "What Christmas Means to Me." The showstopper was James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto."

Looking at the Boebert and Massie family Christmas photos with all those guns, I kept thinking about Black Santa. He's a fixture in many Black and brown households but a controversial figure on the white right. Black Santa simply allows all children to have a Santa Claus who looks like them (if they choose to).

But Black Santa had best avoid the Boebert and Massie households. The outcome would not be merry or joyous.

Trump is rapidly moving toward a confession about his high crimes against America

Fascism is terrifying. So most people look away.

Fascism is disorienting: A basic understanding of truth and reality, of what is certain in the universe, is replaced by "malignant normality," a surreal environment. As a democracy slowly succumbs and then quickly collapses — which appears to be what America is experiencing right now — everything that was once familiar and comforting is replaced by a new order. Those who follow the fascist movement are subsumed in mass ecstasy. Others are disoriented as they variously decide to resist, to collaborate or simply to muddle through in their own day-to-day way.

In a new essay for the Guardian, philosopher and author Jason Stanley describes such a moment coming into existence in America:

There has been a growing fascist social and political movement in the United States for decades. Like other fascist movements, it is riddled with internal contradictions, but no less of a threat to democracy. Donald Trump is an aspiring autocrat out solely for his own power and material gain. By giving this movement a classically authoritarian leader, Trump shaped and exacerbated it, and his time in politics has normalized it.
Donald Trump has shown others what is possible. But the fascist movement he now leads preceded him, and will outlive him.

America's current democracy crisis and moment of interregnum feels like a state of collective cognitive dissonance.

Those outside the Trump-Republican fascist movement are increasingly disoriented and confused. They exist but are not truly alive in the civic, political and social sense. This is known as "zombie politics."

Perhaps most confused are those who truly believed in the myth of American exceptionalism — the idea of the United States as the one "indispensable nation," a shining city on the hill. The rise of neofascism, for those believers, is a type of narcissistic injury. It is also a shroud, marking the death of deeply ingrained but childish fantasies about American democracy, American society and America's future.

In 1920, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote the following in his book "Darkwater" about the global struggle against white supremacy, "And then—the Veil. It drops as drops the night on southern seas—vast, sudden, unanswering. There is Hate behind it, and Cruelty and Tears."

Given that America's native form of fascism is white supremacy, Du Bois's insights ring with especially painful clarity today.

Most Americans, faced with the terror of fascism, will do nothing. That is not an opinion or a judgment. It is just a fact. They know something is wrong — almost everything, in fact — but do not know what to do about it. They have been captured by inertia.

* * *

How many years of life has the Age of Trump cost the American people?

We know that the coronavirus plague, made dramatically worse by the Trump regime, will take more than a million people's lives in America.

It has also stolen millions of hours of life from the American people.

But what have the last five years or so cost us in terms of our peace of mind? How do we even quantify such a thing? What has this cost us existentially? What has already been lost, and what will be lost in the future?

On a personal level, I have concluded that the Age of Trump and this struggle has cost me at least five years of my life. I know this for a fact. In private conversation, other travelers have shared their number with me: Sometimes it is lower, and sometimes higher. The cost takes many different forms.

Since last Jan. 6, I have found myself repeatedly singing this part of David Bowie's haunting song "Five Years":

We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got

I wonder daily about other Americans and what songs they sing in lamentation for their country.

I have also reflected on George R. Stewart's essential science fiction novel "Earth Abides," whose narrator shares memories of a country that no longer existed after a great plague had spread across the world:

It had been a great thing, in those Old Times, to be an American. You had been deeply conscious of being one of a great nation. It was no mere matter of pride, but also there went with it a profound sense of confidence and security in life, and a comradeship of millions.

There is much woe in my contemplation and reflection on America's crisis of democracy, and what appears to be imminent doom. Anyone who is truly paying attention feels the same way.

Those of us who have insisted on warning the American people about the rising fascist tide have often become objects of rage and anger from the very people we are trying to help. I understand this logic: Somehow they believe that the horrible thing can be made to go away if those who keep talking about it can be silenced or driven to disappear. Those who feel powerless exercise what they perceive as their only remaining option, which is, in effect, to make the messenger be quiet.

In a recent conversation with historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat on my podcast, she explained this:

They want it to go away. They want the situation to go away. And sometimes they want you to go away. Sometimes they want me to go away. They wanted my book to go away…. The more interesting ones are the ones where they just can't handle it, you are irksome to them…. They don't want to accept what America is becoming. Some of those are the people writing us those notes.

America's democracy crisis and the fascist darkness are not going away. They are only getting worse. This is a moment when those Americans who care about the country's future need to lean into the fascist darkness and its collective evil with eyes fully open as to prepare themselves for what is to come next.

It has been almost a year since Donald Trump and his regime attempted a coup that involved a lethal attack on the U.S. Capitol and a nationwide plot to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the past year, the world has learned how perilously close American democracy actually came to the abyss.

It was mostly incompetence, dumb luck, timing and the choices of a few patriots who refused to cooperate that prevented America from becoming a Putin-style autocracy, with Trump as de facto dictator. Such a revolution would not have occurred without widespread violence. Indeed, in that alternate timeline the U.S. might well now be in the midst of a civil war or sustained insurgency.

Here is a thought experiment: What would happen if Donald Trump were to now admit his crimes against American democracy? Of course he would do so in cowardly fashion, with a wink and a nod. Something like: I am not saying I did anything illegal — but what if I did?

Trump would continue by explaining that he did it all for the American people — the real Americans! He did it to save America from Joe Biden and the "socialist Democrats." To save America from "cancel culture" and "political correctness" and "critical race theory". He did it to Make America Great Again!

"I did it for you!" he would tell his believers. "I am always fighting for you! We will no longer be victims in our own country! I would do it again for the people who truly love America!"

Donald Trump is rapidly moving toward such a moment. He has repeatedly said that the Jan 6. coup attempt was an act of patriotism and that the "real" insurrection happened on Nov. 3 when the election was "stolen" from him and his followers, in what was surely among the greatest crimes of history.

Last Saturday, Trump issued this pronouncement from his shadow government headquarters at Mar-a-Lago:

All the Democrats want to do is put people in jail. They are vicious, violent, and Radical Left thugs. They are destroying people's lives, which is the only thing they are good at.
They couldn't get out of Afghanistan without disgracing our Country. The economy and inflation are a disaster. They're letting thugs and murderers into our Country — their DA's, AG's, and Dem Law Enforcement are out of control. This is what happens in communist countries and dictatorships, and they don't think they'll be held accountable for rigging the 2020 Presidential Election.
The Jan. 6 Unselect Committee is a coverup for what took place on November 3rd, and the people of our Country won't stand for it.

Trump is reportedly planning "counter-programming" on the anniversary of Jan. 6 to celebrate his Big Lie and further encourage his followers to attack American democracy.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director at the FBI, said in response that when Trump "sends out something like this it's indicative that he's learned something he didn't know," and that his targeting of Democratic district attorneys suggests that:

Word has gotten to him that something is happening, about to happen to him. He doesn't like where the investigation is going. He's lashing out. It's the possibility that either the state of New York or Manhattan district attorney's office and/or the DOJ is getting closer to him. Some word has gotten back to him that triggered that message.

So what will happen if Trump literally admits to high crimes against American democracy and society?Likely nothing. President Biden and the Department of Justice have shown a deep reluctance to prosecute Trump or his inner circle for their many alleged or apparent crimes. Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland remain afraid of "politicizing" the DOJ and creating a precedent that a former president can be held criminally responsible for their actions while in office.

In the most likely scenario, Trump and other members of his inner circle could face fines or suspended sentences. Perhaps Mark Meadows (or another ranking Trump sycophant) will be sacrificed for symbolic reasons and serve a brief prison sentence. Trump will face no significant consequences, and will be free to plot his return to power and his next attempt to bring down American democracy. Trump and his followers will, if anything, be even more energized in their crusade to seize and hold power.

What will the Democrats do? Not much. They will continue to hold hearings. There will be resolutions, investigations, and press conferences. They will scream, rightfully so, about each new set of "revelations" and what they tell us about the perilous state of American democracy and the rule of law. The Jan. 6 committee will make referrals to the Justice Department that will result in nothing substantial. Perhaps some Republican collaborators in Congress will be censured or removed from committees, as has already happened with Rep. Paul Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Even if Trump and his cabal admit to high crimes, Democrats will in all probability still be unable to craft an effective political message, and will remain riven by factional infighting.

As for the Republicans — they will be even more loyal to Donald Trump. His admission and public embrace of his criminal actions will become the new litmus test for being a "real Republican". The coup plotters will be elevated to even higher status in MAGAworld as "role models" and "heroes." Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney and a few other prominent Republicans will condemn Trump. But they are minority voices, near-pariahs at risk of purge or expulsion for disloyalty. Most Republican elected officials and national figures will remain silent — and a large and growing number will consent enthusiastically when Trump and his allies talk of "extraordinary times" and the need for "extraordinary measures".

Republicans will almost certainly win control of the House and Senate after the 2022 midterms. As promised, they will seek revenge on the Democrats through endless investigations, rolling back legislation and perhaps attempting to impeach Joe Biden. It is increasingly likely that either Donald Trump or his hand-picked successor will take power in 2024.

For the mainstream news media, Trump's hypothetical confession would be one of the largest stories in recent American history. But sustained and articulate advocacy for democracy in mainstream journalism will still be lacking. Some opinion leaders and other prominent media figures will tell the truth without fear. But the traditions, norms, incentive structure and institutional culture of the mainstream media are simply insufficient to effectively confront a bold and unapologetic authoritarian movement led by a former president.

After the initial shock and awe at Trump's confession, the media's focus will begin to fade. Soon it will move on to the next controversy, and the one after that.

As for the American people, Democratic voters and other liberals and progressives will be mobilized — at least for a while. There will be marches and protests and similar events. There may even be punctuated moments of civil unrest. But there will be no national strike, nor any sustained nationwide protests and other forms of direct action and corporeal resistance.

Republicans and "conservatives" will of course deny that Trump admitted to committing crimes or will simply support him. Any disapproval will be muted and polite, insufficient to turn Republicans and other Trump cultists against him. The Big Lie has become a master narrative, capable — for Trump's followers — of encompassing almost all possible events.

Public opinion polls have shown that a large number of Americans, across party divides, are simply exhausted by the aftermath of Jan. 6 and they escalating democracy crisis. They just want all the discord to subside, and a collective return to some type of "normal." Most Americans are politically disengaged, and will explain Trump's confession as just another example of the corruption and dysfunction of a fundamentally broken system.

Trump's followers — especially the right-wing paramilitaries and street thugs — will only be emboldened. Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly shown that Republicans are increasingly willing to endorse violence against their perceived enemies — Democrats, "liberals" and "socialists," nonwhite people and Muslims — as a legitimate political tactic.

Benito Mussolini supposedly observed that if you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, people don't really notice. America's fascist movement has nearly plucked that bird naked before the world.

Once again, the Republican fascists are telling the American people and the world what they are going to do. There is little subtlety or subterfuge involved.

The American people must peer steady into the fascist darkness and resist every temptation to avert their eyes or run away. Unfortunately, most do not have the courage for such a task. The burden falls on the rest of us.

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